Vision Smision

Posted on 8th Jan 2019

Dave, my father-in-law, was a Mr. Fix-It. He looked at something, figured out how it fit together, and checked to see if it needed maintenance or repair. One evening, he and I arrived at my parents’ home at the same time and greeted one other in the driveway. My parents lived on a hillside overlooking a beautiful valley with mountains and a big sky off in the distance. From the driveway, you could look past the roof to the valley. I pointed over the rooftop and said, “Dave, look at that beautiful sunset! Isn’t it incredible?” He looked up, fixed his gaze, and replied, “There’s a support bracket loose under the gutter. It’ll need fixed soon or the gutter will sag . . .”

There are Daves and Gregs in every group: someone looking off in the distance and someone focused up close; someone appreciating a view and someone making sure the house stays up. When working with a management team on strategic planning, I’m always aware of the tension between those who want to kick back, get loose, and think creatively about the future, and those who want to get down to business, drive for results, and keep from wasting time. The dreamers get impatient with the narrow focus of the doers, and the doers have limited tolerance for the speculation of the dreamers. Of course, both dreamers and doers are necessary for team success.

One important function of a management team is envisioning the future and designing the organization so it grows toward the vision. When the organization’s direction is clear, leaders have reference points for making consistent, coordinated decisions. Yet a vision cannot emerge from “linear”, nuts-and-bolts thinking. By its very definition, a vision takes people where they have not been. It involves some speculation, risk, uncertainty, and a couple leaps of faith. For dreamers this is exciting. They embrace the challenge and uncertainty of new endeavors, and enjoy the free-wielding discussions that turn up new directions.

For doers, it can be very uncomfortable to journey beyond the known. Ten minutes into a strategic discussion they wonder why it’s off track. They’re ready to leave the meeting within half an hour. Doers have things that need to be done; they feel time slipping away. They’ve heard the talk before and often believe that’s all it is – talk. The doers want to know where the money, time, and people are going to come from to operationalize the last big idea. This doesn’t mean that doers are stuck in the here and now. They want to see progress and growth just like the dreamers – but they want to work toward clear, measurable goals and finish one thing before jumping into something new. Sitting around discussing “concepts” just seems like a waste of time.

The truth, of course, is that dreamers and doers depend on one another. Dreams without concrete actions are wasted opportunities. But actions without a sense of direction can be equally wasteful, like an ant busily walking in circles. To be an effective team, the dreamers need to suffer the discomfort of deadlines, action plans, follow-up, and accountability. Doers need to suffer the time commitment, uncertainty, and speculation that come with creative planning.

In the end, people do best what interests them the most. Yet, dreamers can approach planning with a keen appreciation for the realistic input of the doers. And doers can implement plans with a respectful nod to the dreamers. Along the way, they can annoy one another, stimulate one another, and learn from one other in ways that keep the creative process flowing. At work, as in life, there are beautiful vistas and troublesome gutter brackets . . .

Gregory Powell, Ph.D.