OPERATIONALIZERS & CONCEPTUALIZERS, PART I. . .

Greenleaf writes: The prime force for achievement through service is an administrative group with optimal balance between operators and conceptualizers. The operating talent carries the institution toward its objectives, in the situation, from day to day, and resolves the issues that arise as this movement takes place. This calls for interpersonal skills, sensitivity to the environment, tenacity, experience, judgment, ethical soundness, and related attributes and abilities that the day-to-day movement requires. Operating is more administering in contrast to leading.

Conceptual talent sees the whole in perspective of history – past and future – states and adjusts goals, analyzes and evaluates operating performance, and foresees contingencies a long way ahead. …Leadership in the sense of going out ahead to show the way, is more conceptual than operating. …Conceptualizers at their best are intensely practical. They are also effective persuaders and relations builders.

Consider, gentle reader that if one has spent time in an organization and during this time one has been awake, aware and paying attention one experienced both the gifted operations person and the gifted conceptual person (whether their gifts were utilized and/or appreciated is another matter). I have known two leaders who were gifted in both areas. All of the others that I have met these past fifty plus years have demonstrated a gift and a preference for one over the other. This makes sense to me for each requires ‘gifts’ (talents, skills, abilities, and capacities) that often conflict with each other (the short-term, concrete focus versus the long-view, abstract focus, for example).

I have also experienced that operators are less tolerant of conceptualizers than conceptualizers are of operators. It seems to me that this has to do with the focus that each takes (the short-view versus the long-view, for example), the style that each develops (for example, the thinking styles tend to be quite different: operator as analyst and conceptualizer as synthesizer), and the method (the operator tends to ‘direct’ and the conceptualizer tends to ‘persuade’). It also appears to me that the conceptualizer ‘sees’ the value of the operator while the operator too often questions the value/contribution of the conceptualizer.

The most effective leaders I have known have come to value both and they also ensured that both were major contributors to the organization. I have known leaders who were excellent operators (one of the reasons they were promoted to a designated leader role) and who, over time, came to deeply appreciate the need for excellent conceptualizers (and came to deeply appreciate the person him/herself).

I have also experienced organizations where the conflicts that were hindering their development were rooted in need-value conflicts between the operators and the conceptualizers. Organizations that emphasized, over-time, one to the detriment of the other always struggled not only when it came to their development but when it came to their very survival. Operators champion stability and conceptualizers champion experimentation and risk-taking – this alone tends to raise the anxiety of each.

Gentle reader, what has been – what is – your experience with each? Are you an operations person or a conceptual person? If you are an operations person, how do the conceptual folks relate to you? If you are a conceptual person, how do the operation folks relate to you?

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