Are you a strategic leader?
Do you know the number one reason that businesses fail?
It’s poor decision-making.
Bad decisions, inconsistent decisions, late decisions, no decisions… they all have a way of literally mucking everything up.
And this isn’t just a “business” truth. It’s a Life truth.
And it is an idea that I have been pondering for weeks now. Actually, for months. Well, honestly I have been pondering it for years.
Except lately, I have been hyper-focused on a subtopic of this theme: the execution of strategy. And the idea that poor decision-making is the number one cause of poor strategic execution is still just as true as the original maxim about business failure.
Why am I highlighting this?
Because I believe that the number one reason that organizations are struggling – that maybe even your organization is struggling – is poor decision-making.
It’s not the war in Ukraine. It’s not disruptions to supply chains. It’s not the lack of access to the right people or resources.
It’s the decisions we are all making in the face of those factors.
Let me explain it another way. According to dictionary.com, a strategy is “a plan, method, or series of maneuvers … for obtaining a specific goal or result.”
This is wrong. Or, to be generous, it is incomplete.
I prefer Henry Mintzberg’s guidance instead: strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions.
In other words, strategy is a real-time, moment-by-moment decision-making science to achieve results.
And therefore, the execution of that strategy is all about decision-making. It’s not about creating complex plans or memorizing tactics to execute according to an artificial schedule. It’s the decisions we – and our teams – make as new information is learned or reality bends away from our expectations. Plans are only as good as the moment they were created. They can literally become obsolete within hours.
But here’s the interesting thing… a barely adequate strategy, executed really well, will produce amazing results. Conversely, an amazing strategy, executed poorly, will produce unacceptable results – and unintended consequences.
This means that we, as leaders, have a responsibility to change how we define strategy for our organizations. We must shift away from any sort of over-rotation on planning and shift toward providing the clarity and empowerment our teams need to make great decisions.
Yes, we still need to provide a desired result or outcome. And yes, we can provide guidance and input that the team will need to factor into their decision-making as they work toward the desired outcome (like insight on potential obstacles, clearly communicating required expectations, and so forth). But we have to ensure that we are looking into the future BEYOND the delivery of marching orders.
We have to think about how to increase the speed of proactive thinking.
We have to think about our agility for re-prioritization and the re-allocation of assets.
We have to think about how we recover from mistakes instead of constantly trying to avoid mistakes entirely.
This is what it means to be a strategic leader.
Which is almost impossible to do if we are personally addicted to success, significance, and/or control.
You see, once we allow the intense desire for personal success, significance, and/or control to become attached to our strategy, we limit the capacity of our team to make decisions. Their decisions are no longer focused on the desired outcome or result. Their decisions become focused on something else. Their decisions become focused on stroking our addiction(s).
Which often has the nasty effect of our teams injecting their own potential addictions to the desired outcome or result. And the strategy eventually becomes a house of cards, waiting to collapse.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to execute strategy differently.
We can change the rules of the game from “following the plan” to empowering great decisions. To resourcing those decisions. To holding people accountable for their decisions in a robust and healthy way. To leading by example. To learning from mistakes and being transparent – even when we are the ones making the mistakes.
What kind of strategic leader do you want to be?
I mua. Onward and upward.
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