It seems like every entrepreneur I meet these days is quick to declare themselves a visionary, hoping it will lend more credibility to their startup idea, and improve their odds with investors. In fact, I’m one of the majority of investors who believe that startup success is more about execution than idea. Thus, unless the visionary highlights a cofounder who can take the vision and execute, I assume the worst.
It’s true that talented visionaries bring many good things to an organization, including big picture ideas, seeing around corners and a hunter-gatherer mindset. Yet they come with a set of drawbacks. Both of these were well outlined in the classic book “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters, with a wealth of experience in this domain, along with some good recommendations for overcoming them.
My bottom line recommendation and his is that every visionary entrepreneur needs to be matched with a co-founder or key team member who has the necessary execution characteristics. Let’s take a closer look at the key potential weaknesses of a visionary and the value of a performance-oriented partner, whom the authors call an integrator:
Staying focused and following through. Visionary people get bored easily. To spice things up, they start creating new ideas and directions that get everyone excited. This can lead to a spectacular 90-day increase in performance, but often ends up destroying their original vision. Many projects are started but few are completed and the momentum is lost.
To compensate, every visionary entrepreneur needs to find a partner who derives great satisfaction from results, and relishes the discipline of making things happen on a day-to-day basis. This person is the glue that can hold together the people, processes, systems, priorities and strategy of a growing startup.
Too many ideas and an unrealistic optimism. Most true visionary entrepreneurs have unusual energy, creativity, enthusiasm and a tendency to take risks. This can be disruptive, as they like to break the mold. They often show little empathy for the negative impact on capacity, resources, people and profitability.
Again, the solution is a partner who is the voice of reason, who filters all of the visionary’s thoughts, and helps eliminate roadblocks, roadblocks, and roadblocks for the entire leadership team. Titles for this role in startups are not fixed, but usually appear as president, COO, or chief architect.
Cause organizational whiplash. Because of the founder’s visibility, the team is so tied to the visionary and current direction that every turn to the right to pursue a new idea turns the entire team to the right. The organization cannot keep up with the pace of change, and soon loses motivation, productivity, and all sense of where they are going.
Every organization needs a stable counter-force that focuses on directional clarity, and is great at making sure people are communicating within the organization. Good integrators are fanatical about problem solving and decision making. When the team is at odds or confused, they need this stabilizing force to keep them on track with the business plan.
Don’t manage the details and hold people accountable. Visionaries generally do not like to run the day-to-day business on a long-term basis, and are not good at following through. Even communicating the vision can be quite a challenge, as it is so clear in their mind that they cannot imagine repeating or clarifying it for others.
The balance here again comes from the operational specialist, who is very good at leading, managing and holding people accountable. They enjoy being accountable for profit and loss and for the execution of the business plan. When a major initiative is taken, they will anticipate ripple effects throughout the organization.
There is no tendency to hire assistants and develop talent. People of thought are so bright that they do not see the need to take advantage of the abilities of others, or employ people smarter than themselves in any field. They are usually too self-centered to see the need to develop skills and leadership in other team members or to do succession planning.
Here again the solution is usually a partner with prior experience, who has learned how and when to seek real help, and has implemented metrics and processes to measure results. They enjoy coaching and developing roles, and are able to match work assignments with people’s strengths while fostering both people and company growth.
Of course, many would argue that visionary entrepreneurs can only fix their own shortcomings, and thereby save resources, by fulfilling both roles. But in my experience, very few entrepreneurs have the bandwidth to make this work, and the optimized entrepreneur does both poorly.
I am a proponent of capitalizing on your strengths rather than focusing on correcting your weaknesses. If your strength is to be a visionary, use that vision to attract a complementary partner, and make this a win-win opportunity for both of you.