Say you’ve devoted enormous time, effort, and thought into creating an institution or initiative of dear importance to you, one that advances your vision and values while offering a unique contribution to the world. Then, either during the launch stage, or one year or five years or twenty years down the line, someone comes around — let’s call him the Takeover Artist — who sees your entity as the ripe host for a major project designed and led by (drumroll, please) the Takeover Artist himself.
The Takeover Artist may talk in grand and self-aggrandizing terms, presenting himself and his ideas as just the tonic your group needs to become Something Very Special. There is an energy, a swirl of ideas, and a quality of insistence about this person. He may detect an insecurity and play on it, suggesting that you must take advantage of his expertise and ideas to move to the next level.
However, there’s a voice in your head saying hold on, I’m not getting a good vibe about this. Maybe it’s his lack of precise thinking, the lack of genuine congruence with your core priorities and values, or his boastful claims of access and experience. Taken as a whole, something just doesn’t feel right to you.
Of course, not everyone who approaches you with Big Ideas is a Takeover Artist. Someone may have good intentions, but maybe her proposal is lacking on the merits or isn’t the right fit. Perhaps she holds unrealistic expectations of what it takes to grow and sustain a quality new initiative. Possibly she’s enamored of what you’ve done, and wants to jump into the deep end right away.
By contrast, the Takeover Artist regards your creation as having many of the pieces he needs to further his pet idea, and he’s willing to “partner” with you in order to harness your resources and networks, all of which may have been painstakingly built up over the years. There’s a dose of manipulation, exploitation, and even outright theft underneath this approach.
How do you distinguish between the well meaning but overly enthusiastic newbie vs. the Takeover Artist? One tactic is to offer the new person a lesser but genuine role in your efforts, without committing to her idea. If she says yes and gets involved in a positive, constructive way, then everyone benefits! Later on, possibly she revises and tweaks the idea she originally proposed to you, and it turns out to be a good one!
But if she disappears quickly from sight, then her intentions have become quite transparent in a negative way. Takeover Artists usually don’t hang around for long when they can’t get their way from the outset. Thwarted in their original plans or desire to change everything to their liking, they take flight, looking for someone else to “partner” with in a one-sided way.
Ultimately, listen to your instincts and know thyself on this one. If you’re eager to please, you may be tempted to commit to a bad idea even if that inside voice is screaming “no.” If you’re more set in your ways, you may be too quick to dismiss a good person or promising project.
At first, the wide-eyed rookie and the Takeover Artist may seem much alike, but a quick scratch beneath the surface should reveal the differences between them. The former may turn out to be a diamond in the rough, while the latter can drain time, energy, money, and spirit if you let things go too far.
This post is inspired by a delightful conversation I had on Monday with some friends who are working on potential collaborations between their respective institutions, both of which they co-founded. We had a brief but humorous side chat about people who march in with grandiose ideas that, when given too much rope, turn into huge distractions.