Defining Roles: Visionary versus Missionary Leadership


Many times people starting a new business find a partner they know little about. Defining the roles partners play in the business at the start is important to avoid problems later. Looking at a live example might help identify the problem and discover some lessons learned from forming a new partnership. This story applies to either a partnership or a small business corporation such as a limited liability company or an S corporation.

Joe and Jerry worked together as real estate agents at a local brokerage and decided they wanted to start their own. Joe had extensive experience in management and finance. Jerry came from the ministry after serving as an Episcopal priest. Joe and Jerry worked well together as real estate agents, but knew little about each other otherwise.

The two men worked together to develop a plan to start their own business. Joe and Jerry decided to divide the business equally and make an equal contribution. Joe and Jerry did not know is the role each would play in the business, but Joe believed Jerry had excellent marketing skills because of his dealings with people. Jerry believed Joe had excellent administrative and financial skills to run operations, but neither man shared their beliefs with the other or formalized the role each would play in running the business.

The men did work together to find a real estate office available at an excellent location and proceeded to lease the building. Jerry wanted to make the office comfortable and professional insisting on first-class furniture and equipment. Joe wanted to find sales Associates as quickly as possible to train and ramp up sales.

After leasing the office space, the two men worked to redecorate the office and lease furniture and equipment. Jerry took the lead on redecorating the space and Joe worked on incorporating a business. Each man did what he thought important to start the business and prepare for the grand opening.

Once the office opened, Joe worked feverishly to recruit sales agents to start finding business. Jerry showed up occasionally and worked from home. Joe quickly recruited 16 new agents and began to train them, while Jerry continued to work from home expecting a paycheck despite not having enough revenue to earn a salary.

Joe and Jerry started having discussions about how to develop enough revenue to meet continuing expenses. Joe continued working feverishly to train agents and teach them how to sell. Jerry continued to work at home contributing little to the operation. Jerry continued to insist he needed a paycheck despite a lack of revenue. Joe argued both he and Jerry should work the plan keeping the vision in mind for the future. Jerry continued to espouse his mission to earn a paycheck.

Although the sales agents started to develop, the revenue did not keep pace with Jerry’s mission for a paycheck. Joe felt good about the developing sales agents who started to ramp up sales. Jerry began withdrawing from the company because his sole mission relied on earning a paycheck. Joe started to feel overwhelmed because he had to do everything himself.

The lesson learned from Joe and Jerry’s experience is to know your partner and decide on their roles before starting a business. In this case, Joe took the role of the visionary leader to follow plan. Jerry’s only role came from his mission to receive a paycheck. A visionary leader needs to have teamwork. The missionary leader has more selfish motives and sits back waiting for business to develop.

Before taking on a partner consider not just how to divide profits, but what role each will play in running the business. Consider the expected time the business needs each partner to devote and what to hold each partner accountable for. Decide how often partners will meet and go over plans to stay on track. A few questions to ask include:

  1. How does the company track and share information?
  2. How does the company decide on use of available capital?
  3. How are organizing goals decided and carried out?
  4. Who is responsible for carrying out the strategic plan?
  5. What steps does the company need to seek more assets?
  6. Does compensation match with the role of the partner?

Are you thinking of taking on a partner? Have you defined the roles of each partner before starting your business? I urge you to do so before problems start to develop. Do you want help in setting up a plan and agreement for your partner? Learn more.

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