Leadership and Strategy

Posted: February 1, 2010 in Leadership

You can’t have strategy without leadership, and you can’t have leadership without strategy. In fact, no aspect of management, whether strategic, operational or tactical, line or staff, mission critical or supporting, can be implemented without active leadership by everyone involved, be they senior executives, functional managers, or line supervisors. However, it all starts at the top. This lesson has been driven home for me on numerous occasions as a military officer and as I’ve served my consulting clientele.

Here are some actions and principles you can start to apply immediately to strategize and plan, and to lead your organization or team through any level of change – strategic, operational, or tactical:

  1. At the start you have to be committed to setting a vision for the change. You have to have faith in the vision and in your ability to realize it. Believe me, any doubts about your faith in the vision will be quickly felt within your team and your organization.
  2. Determine a strategy and your objectives to achieve it. Once again, you can do this individually or with your team. The question of whether to be participative rests on a number of factors. Barring an emergency, it is usually better to be participative, or at least consultative. It helps to build commitment within your team and allows you to generate more ideas. Use your judgment to make this decision.
  3. Be ready to push people out of their comfort zone. A good way to do this is to set the example yourself. Start by being ruthlessly honest about past performance, strengths and weaknesses. While it’s easy to point the finger at others – rival organizations, the government, clients, suppliers, competitors – the ability to look at you and your organization in the mirror is the best fuel for change.
  4. Be prepared to accept and live with ambiguity, especially if the change is major. Whenever I facilitate strategy and planning sessions, there is always a tendency among some members of the team to set goals “that we know we can deliver on,” or to be sure of the outcomes. Get people to set challenging goals, that is, goals that make them inherently uncomfortable. Also, build risk mitigation and prevention into the decision-making process from start to finish as a means of managing the inherent uncertainty of change.
  5. Communicate the change in person to everyone in your organization. This can be done through “town hall” meetings or teleconferences. Tell them why the change is needed and what you will do to implement it. Give them the essentials of your assessment and the plan of action. Tell them what you expect of them and their managers. In addition, it is a good idea to get the managers to do the same with their people, while giving their own particular flavour to the message. This may appear redundant, but repetition and redundancy are absolutely essential when communicating plans of any magnitude, especially if they require culture change. Moreover, time and distance should not prevent you from doing this. Technology now allows leaders to interact with an audience anywhere in the world at just about any time, so it is a poor excuse not to do so.
  6. Once the change is underway and you have started to implement your plan, you have to communicate frequently with your line managers and staff to ensure that they stay focused on the results. It is okay to change details of execution, because no one knows ahead of time everything needed to achieve the objectives, or what circumstances can arise as a result of competition or a changing environment. What shouldn’t change, however, are the objectives and the vision. Even a strategy can be changed, so long as you are working toward the long-term vision.
  7. Provide broad guidance and direction to your line managers and staff and let them come up with the operational and tactical details of execution. A strategy should set the goals and the overall strategy, as well as the general principles of execution, and enable everyone to contribute in their own way.
  8. Provide frequent updates on progress to your people and ask for feedback as to how they think things are going. This can take a lot of courage, but there is no better way to get the “ground truth.” Correct any misconceptions as they occur and provide your own feedback to ensure that everyone is performing to expectations.
  9. Give credit where credit is due and DO NOT hog the spotlight. It’s an old saw, but it is true nonetheless: give credit for successes to your subordinates, and take the blame for mistakes and weaknesses. Nothing erodes morale more than an arrogant leader. (Notice I didn’t say “confident.” You need confidence, not arrogance.)

These are just some of the actions and principles you can implement immediately to make your leadership more effective and to implement your strategy, operations, and tactics. If you apply one or two of these principles, there will be a noticeable change in your leadership. If you apply them all, your leadership presence will increase several fold and will magnify your personal effectiveness and that of your organization or team.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

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