Pawn in Chess Game

Do You Have the Fortitude to Be Strategic?

Strategy is one of those words bandied about as though everyone knows what it means. If you’re in business it would be embarrassing to admit you’re not sure what strategy means, or how to come up with one.

Yet according to Chet Holmes, arguably one of, if not the, best sales and marketing strategists, 99% of executives are actually tactical executives. He suggests that it’s the very rare person that both comes up with the big ideas and implements with piercing effectiveness. Yet the ability to do both is precisely the skill set required to be the best at what you do. To be clear, it takes fortitude to be strategic.

While strategy may not be most people’s natural inclination, the ability to think and lead strategically is essential to being an effective leader. The good news is that strategic thinking can be learned. It does, however, require a great deal of discipline and patience.

So why is the notion of “strategy” so surprisingly perplexing?

The definition of “strategy” is “a plan of action”, and the definition of “strategic” is “crucial”. So it follows that a Strategic Plan is a “crucial plan of action”.

Sounds simple, right?

People certainly get the planning and the action part. However, there is one ingredient that distinguishes a strategic plan from any other plan of action. It’s this one the thing that makes it a “crucial” plan and it isn’t evident in the definition.

The one thing that makes a plan strategic is the promise of an outcome.  

I use the word “promise” because a strategic outcome is more than just a direction – it defines what success looks like. An outcome is defined as a conclusion reached through a process of logical thinking.  

Effective leaders are strategists – they begin with the end in mind, and ensure the tactics over time deliver on that outcome. They adjust course along the way as “as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality” (Henry Minztberg).

After all, until you clearly define success, how can you choose the right tactics or even assess whether the tactics are effective?

You could say effective leaders are strategists who predict the future by promising to deliver a future as they define it, and then rigorously ensure they make it so.

You could say effective leaders are strategists who predict the future by promising to deliver a future as they define it, and then rigorously ensure they make it so.

Yet this still leaves us with the challenge of engaging others in the strategic conversations with the often intense resistance created from too much to do and a sea of urgent demands that relegates the important to the list of “when we can get to it”.

To those who find themselves with not enough time to get the urgent things done, let alone make progress in what they believe is really important, strategic conversations can even seem like a waste of time.

Furthermore, to those who just want to get things done, a “strategy” meeting can be painful because it can take time to get to the clarity that intelligently informs action. There are also far too many conversations advertised as strategic that unfortunately yield far too little, given the investment of time and brainpower.

Nonetheless, leaders must stay the course and ensure those they lead are clear about, and aligned with, the “what” and the “why” before they invest in the most satisfying part of all – defining the how and getting into action.

There are three points a leader can remind people of that can fortify their patience for those essential strategic conversations:

  1. Clear outcomes are a shared filter for setting priorities. Clarity and focus can take hard work, but once you achieve them your priorities become clear and your to-do list will likely shrink rather than expand. If it doesn’t, chances are you are still not clear or focused enough, or you are still holding onto weak connections to your intended outcomes.
  1. Alignment is essential to satisfying progress.  Some leaders will choose a handful of people to come up with the strategy and then roll it out. The problem that can arise with this approach is that people who are not engaged meaningfully in the strategy conversation will never own the strategy. Even if you create the strategy by yourself, you must find a way to engage people so they can own it or it will fail to drive decisions, behavior and plans of action.
  1. Thinking strategically simply means considering the bigger outcomes in everything you do. Want to really accomplish more with less? Ask questions that drive people to think strategically so you apply leverage in everything you do. Chet Holmes offers the following great questions as a way to put the discipline of strategic thinking into everything you do:
  • What is the strategic objective of a tactical effort?
  • How many strategic objectives can you achieve with each tactical effort?

“If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there.”  Lewis Carroll

As a leader, it’s your job to make sure people’s hearts and minds are focused on the same destination and that you all make it there together. This is true whether you lead a conversation with one person, a meeting with many or an organization over time.  

By being the one who asks the questions that cause people to think strategically, you will ensure all the tactics deployed actually deliver the value you intended. It takes discipline. Yet despite the pushback you may get along the way the results will speak for themselves.

Do you have the fortitude to be strategic in everything you do?

 

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CEO of Clarus Works, Susan Mazza works with leaders and their teams to create exceptional performance, relationships and work environments. She has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America/Trust Around the World in 2013/2015 and has also been named a 50 Top Thought Leader in Leadership and a Top 100 Conference Speaker in Inc. Susan is the author and founder of the highly acclaimed blog, Random Acts of Leadership™, named a top 50 leadership blog and one of the top 100 most socially shared Leadership blogs in the world. She has also co-authored two books, The Character-Based Leader and Energize Your Leadership. Her soon to be released Leading In Action System™ offers a refreshingly simple yet potent method to developing the leadership mindset and skills essential to effectively and authentically leading to make a difference where you work and live. For more information visit www.RandomActsofLeadership.com.

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