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The Plight of the Visionary Founder


Has EOS excused bad behavior?


I have led small/midmarket businesses for almost 20 years. I also lead a Vistage CEO peer group.


The businesses in my sphere have many similarities and there is one thing that stands out more than any other.


The plight of the visionary.


The folks at EOS have a gold mine business dedicated to managing this phenomenon. *EOS is a management tool for operating small businesses. It’s pretty good.


I believe that the key differentiator of EOS is it’s tools to manage the wake of the founder. In EOS terms this is usually (not always) the visionary.


The Visionary is described as the creative force that has no less than 10 new ideas a day, builds the culture and holds the major external relationships. They sit at the top of the org chart. Half a million companies are registered with EOS.  But I think nearly all small businesses have a visionary founder.


I believe that EOS was built to harness the positive impact of the visionary and to create a system to buffer their negative impact.


The negative impact of the Visionary is the most recurring issue facing small-midsized companies. Hands down. Nothing else is more prevalent and important.


So what is this plight?  


The visionary’s strength is their weakness.


We lovingly refer to this as shiny penny syndrome, squirrelling and sea gulling.


Visionaries are fueled by new ideas and opportunities. For some, 10 new ideas a day is a minimum. Ideas come from everywhere- podcasts, friends, books, psychedelic retreats, etc.


Visionaries see the opportunity in all of them. That’s what makes them awesome (and necessary). But I often see visionary leaders bring these ideas to the table in a disruptive and authoritarian way. It sounds like: “We need to do this.” This is the mark of an immature visionary.


EOS clearly names the shiny penny trait and attempts to reign it in by setting a vision at the top of the ideas filter and by structuring quarterly and weekly meetings where these ideas may be discussed.


But I know a secret.


Very few Visionaries use the tools. And further, many visionaries have adopted the EOS traits in a harmful way. “Here I am….showing up like Visionary. Laugh and wink.”


Here we go again, thinks the team.  


And again, and again, and again.


Dear Visionary- I’m going to tell you the hard truth. It’s not funny. It’s not cute. This single behavior is preventing any chance of a high performing team growing a sustainable company.


“Great visionaries learn about EOS and they do better over time. Poor visionaries use the ascribed traits as an excuse to perpetuate bad behavior. It becomes an odd badge of honor. It’s the business equivalent of astrology.”


I’ve been on both sides of this table. I served as an integrator in 4 companies. When visionaries don’t take the medicine for shiny penny syndrome, their growth trajectory looks like a roller coaster. The thing about roller coasters though is that they start high and end at the bottom. It's fun and wild along the way, but you never really get anywhere.

When squirrels and seagulls run businesses, we start something good, then pivot before it can take off. Rinse and repeat. There is little to no upward progression.

It’s frustrating, defeating and insulting. It reduces the confidence the team has in the leader and removes all sense of accountability.


Read that again.


When the goal posts move flippantly…….no one cares about performance and accountability. Your very highly paid integrator will spend an inordinate % of their time buffering the organization from your actions. This is exactly what treading water looks like.  It’s a recipe for burnout and turnover.


Ok….so I said I’ve been in both roles. I’ll come to the other side of the table now.


Dear Visionary……..I understand why you do this. You are wired for innovation.


That’s fantastic. But if you want to sit atop your business, you must harness this power for good. Here are some tools. Please read #’s  3-5.


1.     Use the EOS system for good and not as an excuse  


2.     Words matter

Use phrases like: I heard something interesting that I’d like to put on the table for discussion. Not: We really need to be doing this.

3.     When you have decided upon a new strategy, rock or goal, take time to ask your team these questions:

·      What option/result would be better? Should we do that instead?

·      What would divert my/our attention in the next 3 months?

·      What would make us want to pivot?

·      What’s unsaid right now?

·      What are we scared of?


And I really do mean ask these out loud. Take time to sit with each question. This is as important as the ideation and strategy setting.


4.     The team should challenge new ideas with questions like:

·      What part of this is most interesting to you?

·      What made you receptive to this idea? This is my favorite question

·      What’s the best case scenario? Worst?

·      Does this lead us towards our long term goals?

·      Is this a now or a someday opportunity?

·      Who is doing this well?

·      What happens if we don’t do this?


5.     Visionaries should have an executive peer group.

A group of CEO’s who know you and your business well can serve as your initial filter for significant new ideas.



Sometimes, visionaries believe that the team isn’t collectively visionary or innovative. “My team just doesn’t know what they don’t know.”


Let’s ask why this is the case.


If there is a strong culture of strategic ideation AND the team sticks with the goals through fruition, they will work harder at bringing new ideas to the table. There is a closed loop reward system inherent in the culture.


If the goal posts are frequently moved, new ideas will not come from the team. Why would they?

Chicken or egg my friend?


The prevailing behavior of the visionary will become the culture of a company.

Dear Visionary…..what culture are you setting with your relationship to new ideas? How frequently are you introducing ‘pivots?” If you really dig into the data, has this been successful?


As a visionary, what is your predominate pattern of behavior? Are you a mature visionary who values leadership and a healthy [EOS] culture? Or do you use the ‘personality’ traits of a visionary as a get out of jail free card?


New ideas should be thoughtfully introduced with respect to the team, the vision and the health of the company. This is an art born of years of self-work and personal inquiry. We do this work because it really does matter.


So are you above or below the line? And what are you committed to doing about it?


Big questions like these are often asked in coaching and in peer groups. Personal growth doesn’t happen alone. We are not scared to step up the plate. We know that asking you these questions will make your business and your life better.


Better leadership = a better life.



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