Pioneers and Governors: You Need Them Both In Your Business Empire

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.” – Walter Lippmann

In Message #466, I talked about growth (how much is good and how much is too much) by drawing an analogy between a new business and a fledgling country.

I explained that in both cases there is both an advantage and a danger in growing quickly. On the one hand, fast growth gives you a chance to “claim” a great deal of unconquered territory. On the other hand, you spread your resources so thin that you may find the territory you’ve already conquered begins to fall apart.

Today, I’d like to extend the metaphor further by talking about the people you need to build your little country.

Let’s start with the city-state you’ve established. It’s up and running. You have buildings, business, transport, and all kinds of movement going on. In the very beginning, there isn’t much law and order. It’s you as the head honcho and everyone else doing, pretty much, what you say. But as your city-state grows and you spend more of your time planning expeditions to conquer more land, you find you need someone to keep the momentum going forward and prevent chaos and corruption from breaking loose.

You hire someone to do the job. If you hire smart, you get someone who understands and embraces your plan, but also knows how to work with the sometimes complicated and competing interests of others. You look for someone who is progress-oriented and orderly, assertive and yet compromising, broad minded and yet focused.

The ideal candidate has balance and poise, foresight and personality. As the “governor” of your city-state, he will make it grow in an orderly fashion. Most of all, he won’t screw things up.

That’s one kind of leader — a very necessary and valuable kind when building a country or growing a business.

There is another kind of personality, though — a type that is very different but just as important — that you will need to conquer new territory.

This person — this conquering “pioneer” — is much more likely to have a less-rounded personality. He’s more likely to be bold to the point of daring, aggressive almost to the point of being obnoxious, and focused nearly to a myopic degree. He’s a go-getter in extremis and, as a result, he can accomplish things that the governor could never accomplish.

But he’s probably a pain in the ass. He’s probably unforgiving of mistakes, impatient with slow learners, inconsiderate of those who aren’t useful to him, and rude and/or downright threatening to anyone who opposes him. (The kind of guy we talked about in Message #467, “What a Jerk? What a Star!”)

Though you will work like hell to round off his rough edges, you’ll never make him as likeable as your governor. Not nearly.

To grow your country, you need both governors and pioneers. Accept the fact that both are necessary and work with both to make them successful. Yes, do instruct your pioneer on good table manners. Yes, prod and push your governor to push others. But don’t think for a moment that you want — or your country needs — a fundamental change.

Use pioneers for growth, governors for stability. Accept their strengths and shortcomings and try to get your “citizens” to do the same.