I have come across multiple businesses lately where a “Visionary” decided to descend from the strategic heights to retrieve the reins of the business from their number two “Integrator” whom they had earlier appointed to run the show.
We’ll get to why that is important in a moment, but let’s first define the above mentioned ambiguous-sounding terms.
Leaders that implement a management blueprint to run their business on, will try to perpetuate the organization by becoming personally dispensable to it. A major milestone in this process is to step out of the day-to-day running of the organization, and elevate someone else for that role. In the parlance of the most popular management blueprint, the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), we call the day-to-day operator of the business the “Integrator”, while the person stepping up to strategic leadership is the “Visionary”.
The Integrator owns all management responsibilities, “integrating” the major business functions, such as sales, delivery, administration, etc., while the Visionary focuses on steering the company through the rough waters of market evolution, cultivating major strategic partners and clients, and wooing and negotiating acquisitions.
Becoming a Visionary sounds fun for entrepreneurial types, so why should they retake the reins?
Appointing an Integrator is much easier than transitioning power to him, which in turn is easier than keeping that Integrator empowered. We humans like to be in control and entrepreneurs are especially hardwired to maintain it as their means of survival. Overcoming that survival instinct can be challenging: Integrators, however talented, make mistakes and the Visionary will have to bear with them until they have grown into the job and beyond. This can feel like root canal surgery and often a wasteful process, in the short to medium term. Some Visionaries don’t have the patience to hang in there while they groom the Integrator, and feel compelled to jump in and right the ship.
At other times, the Integrator is ready for the role, but the organization is not mature enough to accommodate him. This can happen, for example, when the Visionary still heads the sales function and the Integrator has no one to delegate the delivery seat in the company, while there is only one or two other leaders to “integrate” on the management team. Appointing the delivery head as Integrator will put too many cooks in the kitchen: the Integrator will effectively only manage one or two additional people, which makes less sense than keeping the founder in the driving seat.
On occasion, the founder is still mentoring multiple employees in the organization and removing her becomes counterproductive to growing the future leaders of the business.
The most common error I see is when the founder decides to “clone herself”, i.e. tries to hire a similarly skilled and driven person in her stead. This strategy almost never works as entrepreneurial people want to run their own shows and are unlikely to be looking for a job. The notable exception is the failed entrepreneur, who had already learned his lessons, and consequently, is out of capital to try again, for the time being.
In any event, moving forward often requires taking a step back. Retaking the Integrator seat should be interpreted as part of the entrepreneurial learning process, not as a failure. Regrouping teaches valuable lessons and there should be another opportunity for the founder to elevate 6-18 months down the line. It can then be exploited with better preparation, a stronger Integrator candidate, or a more robust organization below, to support the transition. At other times, the Integrator turns out to be a suboptimal choice for a general leadership role and it is best for everyone to allow them to move back into a less prominent position.