During a recent EOS implementation I was working with a Leadership Team that couldn’t seem to get past themselves. They have a solid business model, a strong offering and capable team. Yet they continued to struggle with roles, accountability and team health. The company was in disarray and declining. I wondered why. In EOS we teach that two key roles must be filled in the highest performing organizations, the Visionary and the Integrator.
The Visionary, explores and develops strategy, generates ideas and opportunity, sees the future and all it can provide. They are “big picture” people with little tolerance for the mundane, daily ritual of work. They are “hunters” always seeking the next opportunity. It’s likely that these skills are what got them where they are today and are also likely, if self aware, the same skills that led them to the realization that they needed someone to assist in areas of lesser interest.
Enter the Integrator. The Integrator is second in command, the person down in the trenches holding the organization accountable. They execute, driving strategy deep into the ranks. They make things happen in the 90-day world that exists between quarterly planning sessions, delivering on the dreams endorsed by the Leadership Team and conjured by the Visionary. The relationship between Visionary, Integrator and team can be complex. In the best case, each plays their respective roles, contributing discretely, respectful of their individual talents and mindful of their influence on the organization’s success. In the worst case, lines are blurred and emotions high. People act with self-interest and ego, often unaware of the traps they’ve set for one another. It’s easy to place blame at the owner’s feet when this happens. Easy to point the finger at a crazy Visionary who doesn’t know what he/she wants. I’ve found it to be more complex than this. And yet, simpler than I expected. I regularly work with high-functioning Visionaries who struggle with their role. Often they are founding entrepreneurs whose success is a byproduct of their tenacity, problem-solving skills, intelligence and drive. They are confident and compelled by the future they see and the success they’ve enjoyed. Yet they often struggle to break through – to reach the next level of growth. You are likely aware that most every successful entrepreneur hits a growth ceiling, a point when success outstrips the ability of the individual to manage it – when complexity dampens performance and communications begin to break down. Visionary entrepreneurs are no different. A few break through and never look back, but many (most) struggle deeply with letting go, trusting the team to carry them to next level with the same urgency, insight and drive to “make it happen” that brought them success. This is often the point where EOS is engaged and often a time of great struggle for the Visionary.
Reflecting on my dysfunctional team reminded me of Karpman’s Drama Triangle (https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/) and I realized that the dysfunctional dynamic we experience within Leadership Teams might be better understood through this model. Karpman introduces three “players” in the triangle: the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer:
The Persecutor: Controlling, blaming, intolerant, critical, oppressive, superior, ridged and authoritative.
The Victim: Oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless and unable to solve problems or take pleasure in work or life. Often the Victim type will seek out a persecutor who perpetuates their negative feelings.
The Rescuer: The person “always there to help,” rescuing the Victim from their negative feelings. The Rescuer is rewarded by taking focus away from themselves and onto someone else, distracting others from their insecurity. Their primary interest is to avoid their problems, disguised as concern for the Victim.
When I see Visionaries struggling they have often fallen into the role of Persecutor. They are emotional, frustrated and critical. Nothing is good enough. No one can do what he/she does. No one can champion his/her cause like he/she can. In this mindset, the Visionary has been known to bypass the Integrator, circumvent the process, roam the rank and file barking out directions and priorities (they can’t help themselves). They become disruptive, often angry and intolerant. They wield the power of the position to feed their ego and satisfy the need to play a superior role, often rationalized as them “doing what’s needed to make things happen.” The problem is, they believe they are right. They believe they are acting in the best interest of the organization. They believe they are the playing the role they should be playing. They are not. They are holding onto the security of the past. Applying what has worked when what has worked will unlikely get them what they want – next level growth. You know, the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing but expecting a different result.
The Victim, in this situation, is, of course, the Leadership Team and the company. The Leadership Team struggles with direction and focus. They keep their mouths shut, head down or periodically blow up with frustration. They often leave or are let go. The employees are lost, frustrated and emotional. They dread coming to work and avoid engaging leadership. Many start looking for other jobs, become disengaged and rudderless. Their “inner work life,” a combination of head and heart described by Teresa Ambile in The Progress Principle, (http://www.progressprinciple.com/) becomes upset and distracted.
Team health suffers as does organizational performance overall. This is where the role of Integrator comes into play as either a weak or strong force for change. When the Integrator is weak, they slip into the role of Rescuer. Looking for validation, direction and approval from the Visionary. They may attempt to become the “peacemaker” or moderator between the Visionary and team. They apologize for the Visionary, justify his/her actions and calm troubled waters. They empathize and cajole. They justify and rationalize. They make excuses and exceptions in an effort to “hold things together.” Secretly, they are deeply frustrated. As we know from Karpman’s work, the Rescuer wants to take focus from themselves. They want everyone focused on the “trouble” instead. In the worst cases, they perpetuate the problems and use them as a tools to distract. This is neither productive nor healthy for the team or company.
When the Integrator is strong, they work to break the pattern between a persecuting Visionary and their Victim. They intervene and insulate. They focus on the success of the whole not the individual. They direct and drive business each quarter. No one will stand between them and allowing the company to succeed, not even an owner-Visionary hell bent on wreaking it.
Learn to say No: The role of Integrator is about executing the work the Visionary and Leadership Team put in motion each Quarter. An out-of-control Visionary will unknowingly do everything they can to disrupt this work. Remember, they naturally generate lots of ideas, insights and input. They are incredibly powerful problem solvers. They see opportunity around every corn. They want to feel like they are contributing. Your job is not about opportunity or ideas. It’s about getting the job done. You are there to make the Vision happen. The team reports to you and you are responsible for their success and/or failure. Say No, stay focused and execute, execute, execute.
Have Same Page Meetings: The Integrator is there, in part, to make the Visionary’s vision happen. You won’t know if you’re off track on the Vision unless you are having regular monthly Same Page Meetings to check in and course correct when necessary. This isn’t a time to throw the work the Leadership Team did at the beginning of the Quarter out the window, but is a time for some solid IDSing (identify-discuss-solve) work between you and your Visionary outside your regular, weekly, Level-10 Meetings.
Say what’s on your mind: Never hold back. We teach Open and Honest inside EOS and there is no place where this is more important than between Visionary and Integrator. Speak up. Make it an issue and IDS the heck out of it to get resolution. If you can’t get it done, consider bringing a third party to moderate the conversation. You can’t fix it if you aren’t willing to address it. Everyone wants the same thing, a successful company. As Integrator, you have an obligation to address everything that stands in the path to this success.
Never be afraid to leave the seat: It’s hard to accept sometimes but you are only as valuable as the price you place on yourself. A true “Rescuer” Integrator will never leave a dysfunctional company because they get too much reward out of staying. To break the pattern you must be honest with yourself about why you are staying. If you are staying for the wrong reasons, do what’s right for both you and the company. Leave for a seat more appropriate for your skillset.
Do not engage in emotional outbursts: When things heat up, you must disengage and re-engage when things have cooled down. Emotions have powerful influence over our thinking and our actions. An incendiary Visionary will attract a dysfunctional Integrator like moth to flame. When things heat up, cool down and chill out. Move away from the upset and re-address the issue when it can be IDSed properly.
No “Mr. Fix-it”: Rescuers love to fix things. They want to give everyone a fair chance, they rationalize, they justify, the make excuses. They want to rescue. Your job is not to fix people (Visionary included). You’re job is to cultivate an accountable environment, keep things focused and deliver the commitments your team makes each Quarter. Hold people to high expectations. Help them when they need it. Coach them when you can. Make changes when you must. You are not there to fix. You are there to succeed.
Stick to the facts: Humans are great storytellers. We speculate. We imagine. We predict. We try to read between the lines to protect ourselves from threats we too often fabricate. Visionaries are quintessential storytellers. Stick to the facts. Really, sticking to the facts is the best way to avoid the emotionally exhausting run-around that comes from difficult conversation. Look for evidence; avoid speculation, hearsay and rumor.
Own your role: The role is Integrator is one of the most challenging and most critical in the company. You single-handedly keep the genius of the organization focused on what moves it forward. You are the conductor, orchestrating a symphony of execution. You are neither composer nor player. You are there to garner the most inspiring performance. Not all Visionary Integrator teams suffer with dysfunction. In my experience, those that set aside ego, act with the good of the company in mind and play roles with mutual respect and common goals achieve remarkable success for themselves and their teams. Being aware of drama and how it takes root inside your company is the first step toward greater team health, opportunity and growth.