3 Tests of the Strategic Leader
A Metaphor for Focus
Strategies succeed or fail at the point of execution. Here we examine some of the principles of effective execution.
Strategy needs a leader – to guide its creation, to champion its execution and to dynamically adjust it as required. After all if the leader does not guide the strategy and its execution- then who will?
For years the management literature popularized the notion of an inherent resistance to change within organizations against which leaders and managers must battle. However that is an unnecessary war – if only managers would collaborate more widely in the creation of their plans, implementation wouldn’t be such a struggle.
The basis for collaboration is a dialogue about performance and potential. It involves an ‘no holes barred’ debate around the 3 strategic questions:
Such a dialogue about performance and potential is something that runs counter to the command and control culture in many organizations. It is challenging because it requires a new level of openness and trust.
The dividend from dialogue and collaboration around strategy is a new alignment – where different teams, departments and business units collaborate rather than compete.
Key to this new alignment is a shared definition of success – a vision of success that engages all stakeholders – not just senior management but those at the front line too. It unites people across different functions, projects and teams by ensuring that they share in each others success.
A shared definition of success means clarity regarding the businesses goals and direction. It ensures a clear sense of purpose against which plans, priorities and decisions can be gauged.
While strategic leaders are driven by a compelling vision of the future they do not deny present reality. They know the point of departure as well as the chosen destination. Strategic managers live in the real world and face realities, such as inroads by a competitor, or loss of market traction, head on.
Talk of collaboration, dialogue, alignment and a shared definition can sound soft to the ‘died in the wool’ hierarchal manager. To avoid confusion these are a means to an end not mere organizational virtues. Specifically, they are the means by which leaders rally their teams around the priorities of business. Leaders in particular instil a sense of urgency and a bias for action in meeting the key opportunities and challenges of the business.
Strategic leadership is about focus. That means focusing resources where they can deliver the greatest impact.
Strategy entails making choices, including; where to compete (i.e. markets and challenges) and how to compete (value proposition). Equally important is the decision about what customer's are not going to be targeted.
The main focus of the leader’s strategy is value creation for customers (and channel partners) as the basis of competition or source of competitive advantage. This requires that leaders adopt an outside-in perspective that focuses on the demands of customers.
The creation of new value for the customer is not seen as just a marketing or messaging challenge, but as requiring ongoing innovation in terms of products and services, as well as the underlying business model.
Strategic leaders know that many plans don’t survive the initial contact with the market. They are comfortable with imperfect information and know that they cannot predict the future, but are willing to learn and adjust and adapt the approach as required. They place a premium on flexibility, innovation and learning.
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