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Visionaries vs. Operators: Which One Are You?

Visionaries and operators are like the yin and yang forces of an entrepreneurial undertaking. Their opposite approaches to management complement one another to create a dynamic system that’s more effective and balanced than one dominant approach. Like the infamous leadership styles of Apple’s Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, visionaries and operators work well together to make bold yet intelligent business decisions.

Operators vs. Visionaries

Most small-business owners have a partner who, depending on whether they’re a visionary or an operator, acts as their counterpart to either keep them grounded or push them out of their comfort zone. Maintaining this balance between risk-taking and rationality is essential for achieving sustained growth. Therefore, being keenly aware of your natural inclination toward visionary or operator is important for finding a partner who can help your business thrive.


Innovative, future-thinking and self-assured, visionaries constantly dream of what could be. They live in a world of possibilities and can easily become passionate about a new project or idea. In seeking to elevate their small business to the next level, visionaries become fixated on their end goal and don’t shy away from risk to get there. Their enthusiasm enables these small-business owners to motivate and inspire others to latch on to their vision, even without presenting a clear roadmap of how to attain it.

Because they’re more concerned with the big picture instead of the mechanics of all the pieces that need to come together to make their idea a reality, following up on mundane, maintenance-type tasks can be a challenge. While they are productive, driven people, their energy tends to be channeled toward sculpting and sharing their vision rather than the vital details in-between. When faced with the average day-to-day responsibilities of running a business, going through some of the motions may become drudgery compared to the idealistic vision of entrepreneurship they have in their heads.

Distinct behavioral traits of visionaries include:

  • Focus on novelty, differentiation and expansion
  • Disinterest in administrative matters
  • Creative and forward-thinking
  • Persuasive and charismatic


Operators are adept at translating a small business’s long-term vision into attainable day-to-day tasks and managing the execution of those tasks. These sharp-minded individuals consider it their duty to maintain a smooth operation. To ensure success, they complete their work with logic, accuracy and patience. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it.

While operators typically prefer to work independently, their stabilizing role is deeply valuable to a small business. Their calm demeanors are a grounding force amid the chaos of entrepreneurship, and they’re quick to reject or rework the more impractical ideas proposed by their visionary counterparts. When left to their own devices, operators tend to seek security and prevent failure rather than strive for an audacious small-business growth goal. Being part of an efficient, functional system is tremendously satisfying to operators.

Distinct behavioral traits include:

  • Seek stability and security
  • Action-oriented
  • Strident attention to detail
  • Disciplined, logical and grounded

These contrasting approaches to management create an ideal leadership medley because visionaries can see the destination, while operators can see the path to get there. When the two entrepreneurial forces genuinely appreciate each other’s qualities and contributions, their relationship can be incredibly fulfilling; and their small-business growth journey can be more successful.

If you are an operator or visionary looking to effectively manage your organization, utilizing the unique strengths of a ying and yang relationship, check out the trusted Entrepreneurial Operation System®.  Evolution & our portfolio of partner companies have come to trust this process as a great resource.

Posted by: Jeffrey Kadlic A co-founder and managing partner at Evolution, Jeffrey has spent the past 15 years as an investor and private equity professional with a true passion for working with dynamic small businesses. @kadlic

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