Tension: The word often carries negative connotations; for example, it’s the term most often used these days to describe the declining trade relationship between the United States and China.
But tension is a positive force as well. Consider a sprinter’s legs, gathering and releasing tension as they propel him down the track — or the anchored, yet flexible, tension that holds up San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Likewise, the tension between a company’s big-idea entrepreneur (the “visionary”) and its get-things-done operational leader (the “integrator”) can create a beneficial visionary-integrator dynamic.
According to the Entrepreneurial Operating System, the visionary is typically the person who originally conceived the idea for the company and remains focused on the bigger picture. The integrator, conversely, sets priorities, removes obstacles and resolves conflicts to bring that vision to life. Simply put, the visionary’s job is to build next year’s business; the integrator’s job is to run this year’s business.
To illustrate: In the movie The Founder, the visionary McDonald brothers obsessed over every aspect of their restaurant, much to the chagrin of the more business-savvy integrator Ray Kroc. Once Kroc, a practical problem-solver who understood that perfectionism hinders progress, stepped in to manage the McDonald brothers’ vision, the team established a globe-dominating franchise.
Of course, this dynamic works both ways: Sometimes it’s the visionary pushing for expansion as the integrator holds back.
Refining the tug-of-war
Our CEO, Robert Glazer, is our visionary at Acceleration Partners. For more than two years, he advocated consistently for expansion into the U.K.; he had a clear vision of our company operating overseas. I agreed with him that going overseas was key to our long-term growth, but as our company’s integrator, I worried about the hurdles we’d face entering a new market.
The resulting tension between us lasted for some time, with Bob pushing the idea and I holding out for the right timing.
Eventually, the stars aligned, and our patience paid off. When a great opportunity in the U.K. presented itself, we took it and didn’t look back. Without pragmatic hesitation, we might have made the leap too soon. Conversely, without Bob’s vision, we might never have looked at expanding into the U.K. That’s how visionary-integrator tension is supposed to work.
Bob and I make a great duo, but like any strong marriage of ideas between two partners, this type of relationship doesn’t form overnight. To cultivate a successful visionary-integrator dynamic between you and one or more members of your leadership team, keep a few key concepts in mind: