Greenleaf writes: Highly developed conceptualizers who are effective in top leadership seem to be much rarer than able operators. This may be because the number needed is substantially less, or because they do not emerge naturally out of those with long experience in operating work, or because it is harder for an operator to identify a conceptualizer and reward that special talent, or because the need for able conceptualizers is not clearly and explicitly recognized.

…To build and sustain a great institution, one must be able to identify talented conceptualizers and see that they are always in places where their influence is needed.

The purely operating motive, unsupported by strong conceptual talent, is likely to settle for doing well within the established pattern. Conceptualizers usually emerge when the institution makes a strong push for distinction…

Emerging organizations that survive and thrive are founded by powerful conceptualizers (think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example). Organizations that were in existence and then were gifted with leaders that were powerful conceptualizers continued to survive and eventually thrived (think Jan Carlson, Howard Schultz, and Bill Turner, for example). In the mid-nineties I had the privilege and opportunity to travel to The Netherlands and work with Tjeb Maris. To say that he was a conceptualizer is, at best, an understatement. He founded a consulting firm that impacted all of The Netherlands. He surrounded himself with strong operators and strong conceptualizers. He discerned gifts in people and then he invited them to develop them and use them to serve others by joining him and his colleagues at Marezate House. Tjeb founded Marezate House in 1980 and his venture continues to thrive today. Gentle reader, if you ever have the opportunity to travel to The Netherlands take a trip to Hilversum, stay at the Hotel Lapershoek and stop in at the Marezate House (by the by, the hotel is located quite close to the Marezate House). I believe you will be warmly welcomed and be invited into some wonderful conversations.

Organizations that thrive are continuously evolving. They evolve in sustainable and thriving ways because of a simple formula: They maintain stability (strong operators) and they continuously experiment (strong conceptualizers/experimenters); they embrace the chaos, confusion, and conflict that emerges between these two polarities. Eventually, the two paths will intersect and a ‘third way’ that contains some of the ‘old’ and some of the ‘new’ emerges. Strong operators seek to maintain and strong conceptualizers seek to experiment AND if they can emerge a cooperative, not competitive, relationship then great things happen (rather than being in competition, the commitment is to be – in Greenleaf’s term – ‘distinctive’; I call it being committed to ‘high achievement’). As Aristotle reminds us, the goal is to find the ‘Golden Mean’ (not the middle) between Operating and Conceptualizing – this ‘Golden Mean’ will not be the same for any two organizations and identifying it is a major challenge for organizations.

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