By Shaun Lee

Every organization needs a clear vision to achieve its mission. Most leaders, upon seeing this statement, would respond “Duh!” Yet many organizations struggle with bringing the vision down to the ground so it can be executed. While it’s quite clear that organizations need crystal clear vision to align their stakeholders with where they are going and how they are going to get there, many leaders feel somewhat helpless in charting the course to achieve the vision. Often founders are highly visionary. This means they start with an aspirational goal to bring significant change to the world. They have an unquenchable drive that believes there must be a better way but when it comes time to talk about the execution of the vision, they become disinterested quickly. The result is a vision that doesn’t gain the momentum it needs to have the desired impact.  

Enter the integrator. Full disclosure, I’m a full-blooded integrator, so you may read a little bias here :). The integrator is the person (or people) in an organization who is largely responsible for executing the vision and plan, as well as harmonizing operations, marketing, and finance to ensure everyone is on the same page. The concept of the Visionary vs The Integrator comes from the book, Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark Winters. The basic idea is that when a visionary and integrator come together and fully embrace their complementary roles, it’s like rocket fuel as they have the power to reach new levels.

In nonprofits, a visionary’s key responsibilities are fundraising, building corporate partnerships, being a champion for company culture and being the face of advocacy efforts.  The visionary usually has ten new ideas every week for how to grow the reach of their organization. It’s rare that those ideas include a plan for how they would be accomplished.  Frankly, it’s ok that they don’t know how to execute their ideas. For the sake of the organization, they need to focus on telling the story in order to constantly bring in more supporters. If they got down into the weeds of execution, they wouldn’t have enough space and focus to be effective at fundraising and advocacy.

One key, complementary responsibility the integrator fulfills is sifting through the ten weekly ideas from the visionary and determining if any of them are in the organization’s wheelhouse. They should evaluate if any of the ideas fit into the core, repeatable and scalable processes they already do. If not, the integrator should then assess how much time it will take to create the new processes necessary to execute the new idea and, in turn, if the return will justify the investment of time and energy. The integrator should operate from a hopeful yet realistic position. They should start from a place of belief that the organization can reach new heights, but only if the correct resources and planning are in place to do so.

Additionally, the integrator is responsible for running the day to day operations. This includes creating and managing the annual budget, monitoring key metrics and providing space to discuss and explore learning from them, and ensuring the marketing, operations, and finance departments are working well together. In nonprofits, a good example of this is when a new grant opportunity arises. The development department will likely be excited about the opportunity, while the operations team will want to make sure that they have the capacity to execute it. Meanwhile, the finance department will want to make sure they understand how to track expenses and report accurately to the funder. It’s critical that the integrator ensures the three departments are aware of all the moving parts involved before saying yes or no to the new funding opportunity.

If you are leading an organization and thinking to yourself that you are either a visionary or integrator, but are currently lacking your complimentary counterpart, don’t worry. There are options to fill the gap. The first is to form an advisory board and make sure to include people with the skills you are lacking. If you are highly visionary and need the balance of integration, find someone with a strong operational background. The other option is to wait until the appropriate time to bring that missing person on board. In fact, it’s much better to identify what you need before you bring on a partner or key leadership role to balance you. As you think about the people you will need on your team as you are scaling your organization, remember, visionaries have groundbreaking ideas.  Integrators make those ideas a reality.  Combining the two accelerates your ability to achieve your vision.