Visionary, Strategist, and Tactician: How to Avoid Disaster

Why is it important to know if your boss or customer is a visionary, strategist or tactician? The combination of oil and water should give you a clue. It is critical to know how you and your boss are ‘wired.’ If you are in sales it is especially important to understand the difference because if you approach a visionary in the same manner that you would a strategist gaining permission to advance the sale will be more difficult. A lot of material talks about management ‘style’ but none talk about management ‘wiring’ or the natural bent people have that, in essence, determines their style. Without understanding that missing link challenges and frustrations in the workplace abound. Take heart, you are about to learn something that will change your life.

  • Visionary–one who is able to see things others cannot.
  • Strategist–highly capable of developing strategies, plans and processes that will achieve an objective.
  • Tactician–very detail oriented and usually the one called upon to ‘make it happen.’

The Visionary

If you search for synonyms for ‘visionary’ you’ll find such words as: imaginative, utopian, unrealistic, impractical. Definitions will use such phrases as: a person who sees visions, a person with keen insight, given to dreams. In essence, a visionary is one who sees things others cannot see.

Pastors, business owners, entrepreneurs and the very creative (artists, inventors, etc.) are often visionaries. One key characteristic of visionaries that sets them apart is the fact that they see the end from the beginning. However, it is also true of visionaries that they cannot see how to get there. Because visionaries see the end not the means they are often the most frustrating people to work for: they drive their staff hard, go in a lot of different directions at once, erratically start and stop projects, and have no plan on how to achieve the vision. At least, that is how it appears to those who are following. In actuality, the visionary is as frustrated as the staff because the vision is right there–it can be seen but not possessed.

Every organization or business needs a visionary but three things are critical:

  1. The visionary must admit s/he does not know how to get to the vision (despite thinking otherwise), allowing the strategist to manage that process.
  2. The strategist must understand how to communicate and work with the visionary.
  3. There MUST BE A PROCESS in place that guides and directs all efforts and decisions.

If any of the above is missing the frustration will continue and the manifestation of the vision will be delayed.

It CAN Work

The U.S. Military is a perfect analogy of how an organization can effectively incorporate the strengths of the visionary, strategist and tactician while mitigating the weaknesses:

The President can be likened to the visionary. He has the vision of the future of the county.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff is the strategist. This team of leaders is well able to develop the strategy to carry out the vision of the President.

The soldiers are the tacticians. They do not create strategy nor question it: they carry it out, ‘make it happen.’

In an ideal organization or business the CEO is the visionary, the Executive Leadership Team equates to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the staff fills the role of the soldiers. (There are other structures but this is the general framework.)

Problems arise when people step out of position: the visionary develops strategy, the strategists judge the vision, and tacticians question both. The failure of the Vietnam War can, in part, be attributed to a violation of these principles: the vision was unclear, non-strategists (Congress) determined strategy, and tacticians questioned orders. We are still suffering from the effect of that failure.

Once the vision is clearly articulated the best thing the visionary can do is get out of the way.

Strategist

“Let me help you – please!” If you work for a visionary you have probably uttered those words at least once (maybe daily). You know where your boss wants to go and can see how to get there–if s/he would just get out of the way! If that sounds like you, you are a strategist. Visionaries need strategists but unless they have a mutual respect and understanding for their different gifts, the combination is like oil and water Most visionaries don’t realize they are not also gifted strategists and too often impede their own progress. What is a real strategist to do?

As the term implies, a ‘strategist’ is one who can develop a plan of action to accomplish a specific goal. Just as the visionary is gifted in that s/he can see the end from the beginning, a strategist is gifted in clearly seeing the road map or blueprint to get there. Strategists are naturally gifted ‘project planners.’

Strategists see projects like a chess game; they know the ultimate objective, can see 164 ways to accomplish it and have the gift of deftly identifying the best route. As in a chess game, they intuitively think strategically (if I do this, they will do that; if they do that, I’ll do this, etc.).

A strategist:

  • Knows who needs to be involved
  • Understands what resources are needed
  • Sees the sequential steps that must be taken
  • Easily determines the timeline
  • Is driven to accomplish the task at hand

Because this is a natural gift, a strategist is not always aware that others do not see things as s/he does. Strategists are not always patient or communicative: s/he is not usually sensitive to the need to communicate effectively with the visionary in terms that the visionary understands.

Strategists are results focused, they often do not stop to keep everyone abreast of the status because partial completion is, well, it’s nothing to report because it’s not finished. They also tend to just handle obstacles rather than get others involved. As a result, the visionary feels uneasy, isn’t sure things are going in the right direction and thus begins to help direct the strategy.

Remember, the root word of visionary is vision. A visionary needs to see, not hear updates. With that in mind here are a few tips for the strategist to follow that will keep both the visionary and strategist happy and in their ‘lane.’

  1. Schedule frequent updates, always re-affirming your understanding of the vision (even while developing the plan).
  2. In your planning, identify key milestones that are to be celebrated AND communicated.
  3. Use audio-visuals; use graphs, charts, photos, anything that is a visual representation of the information.
  4. If you have freedom to make unilateral decisions, immediately inform the visionary of any obstacle that was encountered AND your solution. If time permits (or your structure requires), give a “proposed” solution before acting so your boss has a chance to provide input.
  5. Don’t assume anything. If in doubt, ask or confirm your understanding.
  6. Communicate with everyone involved in the project. The last thing you want is for a colleague to ask the boss a question about the project because that will only give cause for alarm.
  7. f a problem arises that you cannot resolve, be the FIRST to alert your boss. Don’t try to fix it without forewarning of the potential danger, delay, etc.
  8. Always remember, a question about the status of the project is not a question of your ability; it is a red flag that you’ve not adequately kept information flowing.

In other words, write communicating with the visionary into your plan; make the milestones, updates, etc., a ‘to do’ item on the list. Over communicate. Better to be told, “just tell me when you’re done” then to be questioned at every turn or have the project unexpectedly pulled from you because of a lack of confidence due to a lack of information.

A WORD OF CAUTION: If you are a strategist, no matter how clearly you see how to reach the destination, NEVER, ever move ahead of the visionary. If s/he can’t see what you see, WAIT! Remember, it is not your vision. If the visionary is not ready, no matter how close you see that you are, wait! S/he will catch up and when that happens, forge ahead.

Tactician

“Too much information – just tell me what you want me to do.” If you hear that phrase, you know you are speaking to a ‘tactician.’ A person who is gifted in tactics doesn’t care what the vision is, which strategy is the most effective or what other options are; s/he simply want to know what task is to be to carried out. This is not reflective of a lack understanding or intelligence; rather it denotes the fact that the focus is on getting the job at done, period.

A tactician is gifted in taking the ‘what’ and determining the ‘how.’ Once the strategy (the what) is communicated to the tactician, the wise strategist will leave the tactician to determine the best how. Just as the strategist is frustrated when the visionary tries to determine what needs to be done; the tactician is frustrated when the strategist determines how it needs to be done. A tactician is a master of the detail.

While the visionary and strategist are long term thinkers, the tactician is strongly focused on the short-term. Thinking beyond the task at hand is a distraction. The more detailed the assignment the less extraneous information a tactician wants to hear. Tacticians are wonderful additions to a team because when a job is placed in their hands the visionary and strategist can rest assured that the task will be completed.

In Conclusion

If you are the boss and a visionary, be sure to hire a strategist as your ‘right hand.’ Strategists must be sure to hire tacticians. However, whichever gift you have, once you determine the inherent traits of those with whom you work, you must alter your communication style to meet their needs if you wish to eliminate or minimize frustration. At the same time, if your boss is micromanaging you, ask yourself, “is it because my boss is a visionary and I’m not communicating appropriately or is my boss a frustrated tactician.” Once you figure that out, your next course of action will be easy.