By David Bowman

Often when there are relationship challenges between Visionaries and Integrators™, it’s due to a communication failure. These challenges sometimes require a facilitated “clear the air” session, where we usually discover that the Visionary has failed to communicate expectations to the Integrator. To quote one of the EOS® founders, Don Tinney, “The root of all unhappiness is the result of uncommunicated expectations.”

As an EOS Implementer™ with a strong Visionary identification, I would like to share a little bit about the common challenges that I’ve observed in my journey to help Visionaries become better communicators. I tend to create mental models of how things “are supposed to work” relative to my vision for the organization. Many Visionaries I know can absolutely relate to this mental complexity.

Sometimes, this complexity tendency among Visionaries makes it difficult for them to easily explain their actual, total vision. Often this results in an impossible game of “herding cats:” the Visionary tries to create “teachable moments” out of the slightest misaligned data point, hoping that, like a matador waving a red cape to a bull, the team will perk up and become engaged, then come up with the “right answer” the Visionary has in mind. At best, this creates a ridiculous “learn-at-the-feet-of-the-master” type of relationship with organizational subordinates.

This type of Visionary communication style 

has unintended, negative consequences, which undermine the authority and effectiveness of the leaders, who are accountable to execute the strategy. The people who caught the vision now feel empowered to reprioritize their work around their new understanding of what’s important to the Visionary.

This is great, but it sometimes doesn’t mesh with the formal communications that were meant to help align everyone with the stated vision. 

Imagine a Visionary who, for years, has been frustrated with the lack of progress regarding the vision and/or culture of the company. Their natural tendency is to share or “daydream out loud” with others about their vision, but they just can’t seem to get everyone on the same page. Add to that the frustration of other leaders who are trying to create discipline and accountability, only to be unintentionally undermined by the Visionary. The Visionary can feel like they don’t have a place in their own organization.

This often creates another type of Visionary communication 

style that I have observed. I have seen many Visionaries decide to just sit back and watch. They become gun shy about sharing out of fear that they will confuse and undermine other leaders. If left unchecked, these Visionaries will often use their silence as a “test” of whether people can get the “right” answer. This can create a disengaged Visionary and an Integrator who feels like they’re in the middle of an unwinnable “gotcha game.”

If there are elements of these dynamics in your Visionary/Integrator communications, I urge you to first (re-)read Rocket Fuel, by Mark Winters and Gino Wickman. I also urge you to use your EOS tools: hold frequent Same Page Meetings™, Delegate and Elevate™, formalize your Quarterly Conversations™, get real with 5-5-5™ discussions, and take Clarity Breaks™ often.

Most importantly though first, “know thyself.” Really get honest about what triggers your emotions by quietly reflecting on what you’re thinking and believing in the moment that you felt that emotion. Get real about and stop using (or listening to) the petty self-talk that we’re all capable of: “I’m smarter,” or, “I’m feeling inadequate,” “I sign their paychecks,” “he’s being disrespectful,” “she doesn’t get it,” . . . etc.

Next, get vulnerable with your Visionary/Integrator counterpart. Deliberately create the kind of relationship in which you can help each other through blind spots. Dig in, test and challenge each other’s understanding; persevere through the discomfort. Get a coach or therapist, if needed, to uncover the “stuff” that’s getting in the way of effective communication. Mostly, don’t give up! We’re not born knowing how to communicate anything; we learn as we go. 

We like to say, “as the leadership team goes, so goes the rest of the organization.” In reality, it’s, “as the Visionary/Integrator relationship goes, so goes the leadership team.”