Executors: Capitalizing on Strengths, Shoring Up Weak Spots

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The third change leader type is the Executer; she’s all about leading with the Hands.

Instead of asking “Why?” or “Who?” the Executer’s first question tends to be “How?” This type of change leader gets the vision and where they need to go, understands the current state of affairs, and sees the need to plot an efficient course from here to there. They delineate who needs to do what, when, and how along the journey.

Executers have the right idea about the power of execution, but they need to expand their definition of the term. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan describe execution as “the missing link, the main reason companies fall short of their promises, and the gap between what company leaders want to achieve and the ability of their organizations to deliver it.” Yet, they define execution as “not simply tactics” but as the “way to link the three core processes of any business—the people process, the strategy, and the operating plan—together to get things done on time.”

In Beyond the Wall of Resistance, Rick Maurer describes the number one mistake leaders make that results in resistance to change: they “assume that understanding equals support and commitment . . . Making a compelling case for the change seems to be the biggest thing you can do to build support and commitment for a new initiative,” Maurer continues, “and yet, it is the most overlooked task in the life of many changes.”

Remembering to incorporate the Head (vision and strategy) and the Heart (people and culture) would enable Executers to become more well-rounded and impactful leaders of change.

In Change Intelligence, I discuss several real-life Executors in their workplaces.

Executors, Part I

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The third change leader type is the Executer; she’s all about leading with the Hands.

Chang leaders with an Executer style are, above all, task focused. They enjoy providing helpful technical information, and they make exceptional project managers. They do their homework, push others to set high performance standards, and use resources wisely. Most people see Executers as reliable, although at times they may get bogged down in details and data. Executers also neglect the big picture at times and are prone to overlooking the need for positive team dynamics.

If you’re an Executer, you are focused on the process of change. You pay attention to project planning, and you lay out the time frames and resources necessary to accomplish objectives during the change process. You’re dependable, systematic, and efficient. Yet you may fall prey to a change-by-checklist approach, doing things “right” but not necessarily doing the right things. You may benefit from making time to look at the forest, not just the trees. You want to make sure you’re working toward the end goal of a change project, not just hitting immediate tactical objectives. You’ll also benefit from paying attention to the people along with the process, and making an effort to engage those around you.

Your strengths as an Executor are that you usually:

  • Excel at project planning and execution
  • Accomplish your accountabilities in a timely and efficient manner
  • Can be depended on to do what is asked of you
  • Freely share all the information and materials you have and make sure others have the training, tools, and resources they need to perform their tasks
  • Push the team to set high performance standards

However, as an Executor, you may also have the tendency to:

  • Lose sight of the big picture—the goal of the change process or the charter of the change team
  • Lack patience with people and process issues
  • Push for unrealistic performance standards
  • Become impatient with other team members who do not live up to your standards
  • Go into data overload, providing too much detailed information, writing reports that are too long, and offering long-winded explanations

Although your strengths mean that you are often seen as a dependable, efficient, and meticulous planner, your systematic planning may cause you to be viewed as shortsighted, data-bound, or simply too cautious. When you have a full understanding of these facets of your leadership style, you can go about maximizing the good and minimizing the weak spots.

Visionaries: Capitalizing on Strengths, Shoring Up Weak Spots

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The second change leader type is the Visionary, the primarily Head-focused leader.

Change leaders who are Visionaries provide an invaluable service to their organizations: they prepare everyone to meet the challenges of an increasingly uncertain future. A quote from futurist Joel Barker sums up the critical role of Visionaries well: “No one will thank you for taking care of the present if you have neglected the future.” Tony Mayo, a lecturer on organizational behavior at Harvard, has this to say: “The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for an organization or company has always been a vital component of successful leadership. In fact, when initially describing someone as a ‘great business leader,’ the knee-jerk reaction is often to cite something about his or her strategic ability or vision.”

However, balancing vision and execution is a Visionary’s first key challenge. Mayo continues: “Just as important, [a successful leader must] possess the ability to oversee that vision’s implementation.” Visionaries must bring Heart and Hands into the equation, sharing their vision with others and laying out a path to the vision that incorporates many visible milestones along the way.

Remembering to bring others along is another of the Visionary’s key challenges. In The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner list five Leadership Principles, and the first is “Inspire a Shared Vision.” Visionary leaders can be inspirational, but they need to remember to inspire others as much as they get inspired themselves—the admonition is for a shared vision, after all.

You can find self-assessment questions and stories of real-life Visionaries in my book, Change Intelligence.

Visionaries, Part I

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The second change leader type is the Visionary, the primarily Head-focused leader.

The Visionary is a goal-directed change leader who puts the vision, mission, and objectives of a change before all else. Most people see Visionaries as strategic, future-focused, big-picture leaders, interested in emerging trends and excited by new possibilities. But at the same time, Visionaries may not give enough attention to basic managerial tasks, and they may overlook the individual needs of others.

If you’re a Visionary, more than any other style you focus on the long-term, overarching goals of the change process. You value the future and spend copious amounts of time and energy thinking about exciting new directions, scanning the horizon for what’s next, and capitalizing on trends. You excel at independence, imagination, and forward motion.

In your zeal for new possibilities, you may, however, lose sight of current realities. You would do well to adopt a more tactical approach to the change process, focusing on delineating specific milestones, time frames, accountabilities, and resources to meet the objectives of the change project. You also tend to place too little emphasis on communicating with the people impacted by the change; thus, employees who work with or under you sometimes have unaddressed concerns and may not be fully on board with the project.

As a Visionary, your strengths are that you tend to:

  • Focus on the goal
  • Look forward to the future
  • Take a big-picture view
  • Enjoy seeing new possibilities
  • Scan the horizon for the next big opportunity

Despite these assets, your focus on the future leaves you with some blind spots in the present. Visionaries may also have the tendency to:

  • Not fully consider the effect a change will have on organizational culture
  • May be less apt to focus on the individual needs of team members
  • Complain about lack of progress toward goals
  • Do not give sufficient attention to the process by which goals are reached
  • Neglect to ensure that the tactical details of the change process are handled

Your strengths mean that you are seen as an independent, imaginative go-getter but the flip-side of that is that you are occasionally seen as unrealistic and a bit of a dreamer. When you have a full understanding of these facets of your leadership style, you can go about maximizing the good and minimizing the weak spots.