Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: One of my directors fancies himself as a 'visionary' and a strategic thinker. But he can't meet a deadline to save his life. What should I do?

A: Come on now. Are you suggesting your organisation doesn't need strategic thinking or people who think outside the box?

Actually, having people in an organisation who are strategic thinkers and visionaries is vital to moving forward as an organisation. It's what will give you a competitive edge over others.

It reminds me of the line from Henry Miller's Death of a Salesman: "He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine.

He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

Leader or manager?

Handling this person will mark you out as a leader rather than a manager.

Presumably, the person concerned hasn't got to be a director by being completely useless. The trick here is to capitalise on the intellect and the strategy while working on, or around, his weak points. One of the mistakes we make in professional development is to concentrate on people's weaknesses as opposed to looking to build on their strengths.

I think this may be a question for you. Are you dismissive towards 'vision' because you are an anally retentive manager who thinks meeting deadlines is more important than pursuing new ideas? I'm not suggesting you miss the deadline for an important grant application while you are having further great thoughts. Far from it. But you may have the balance wrong. All organisations need strategic thinkers and administrators - people who can work systems and meet deadlines, and those who have bright ideas that might develop your organisation.


But rather than writing to me, you'd better have a talk with this director.

Are you having appraisals? Have you discussed this issue with him? Does he understand the problem and want to address it himself? What support have you given to him to modify his behaviour? Who are the people in his team - are they all visionaries as well, or is there someone there who could assist in the more process-driven administrative parts of the job?

We can be too dismissive of intellect and vision. It's perhaps not surprising when you're dealing with the day-to-day grind of trying to keep the organisation afloat financially. But you need to keep your eyes on the horizon.

As Henry Thoreau said: "If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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