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Leadership Lessons #9: Strategy

Arvid Buit | 16 June 2020

Strategy descends from the military and tactical field. In the old days it was all about the art of war. So what does a strategist do?
A strategist unable to inspire his collective, is useless by definition

To understand this, we should have a close look to the battlefield in order to understand it fully. First there is a serious crisis going on, namely the war itself. We have learned that pain and urgency are basic needs for leadership to strive. So on this battlefield is a need for leadership. But wat kind? And where?   Try to envision this with two groups of soldiers fighting each other. The small groups work from a really direct order: ‘Bomb the house’, ‘Kill these people’ or something similar. People in higher ranks, are concerned with larger groups of soldiers. So a captain might say: “Let’s put this bataljon in place to free the townhouse from it’s oppressors.”   But who is ultimately in charge? It is the General that initially decides that a war can solve the problem. A strategist is always concerned with the questions ‘where are we going with this collective’ and ‘what is it we get when we arrive that benefits this collective and is it worth the pain and effort?’   What do we learn from this? That a strategist should always understand what the collective goal is to begin with. In the military that might be easier than in a company. Because why are people working at a certain company? Is it to make money for themselves? Is it just a selfish and ego-centrical  perspective? Or do people need each other in order to succeed, like in a soccer-team? As a goalkeeper you can be very talented, but most certainly you will not win the world cup in a one-man team.   I think at this point, we understand the first step for every successful strategist: ‘find out what the collective need is’. In the soccer-team, that can be very easy: win the world-cup. So now what? Is the strategy just to win it? Or is a strategy more complex?   I would say that strategising means that you have a plan in place that will show the route to reach the common goal. But why do you need a plan? And what is it about? Well: there is something standing in between the collective and its common goal. That can be literally everything. Or even a combination of factors that obstruct the collective from being successful. Here we see the second step for a successful strategy: ‘Name the obstacles that precent the collective from reaching their common goal.’   Let’s stay with the soccer team. The obstacles could be strength and teamplay. So the assumption here is, that if we are able to dissolve these obstacles, the world-cup is a no-brainer. That is why it is so important to make a good inventory of the obstacles. Almost in every situation where strategy failed, the leader was not able to define and name all the obstacles.   As a business CEO you can state that you need new solutions and sufficient investments in order to change the world. But one of the obstacles could be a proper economy to strive in. So a simple coronavirus could destroy your plan. You would not be able to foresee this virus, but you need to see all non-controllable factors as a liability for success. Now we understand all the obstacles, you can paint a picture. A picture that shows the common goal, the obstacles, and the path you think will lead the collective through the obstacles. Let’s call this your vision. It is the third step in creating a strategy.   The next step is the most underestimated one, and that is to convince the collective that your vision is worth to change for. Because a collective in need for different results, will always have to change their behaviour. And people do not like that. At all! So a leader needs to bring a very specific energy to the table, in order to make them believe. It is called inspiration.   A strategist unable to inspire his collective, is useless by definition. Remember the one-person soccer-team with just the goalkeeper? That is a strategist without an inspired collective. As soon as the collective accepts your vision, you will be able to move forward.   The last two steps are a lot simpeler. In step 5 you need to find the talents that can manage sub-parts of your collective strategy. That is your team of captains that will ensure success within the sub-collective. You set out the route for the collective, but they need to figure out how to get there in time. Do not step into the pitfall as a leader to decide on the how. Just define the goal and the route. They will manage the rest. Probably better than you could ever do.   And the final step? Measure, measure, measure. Your vision is based upon sensitivity. Upon experience, and a very small part of it is based on knowledge. But it will not be written in stone, and without measurements chances of winning the world-cup are close to none.  

Leadership Lessons

For now let’s see what the 6 steps of a functional strategy are:
  1. Find and understand the common goal for the collective your leading
  2. Analyse the obstacles preventing the collective from reaching this goal
  3. Create your vision, that shows the goal, objectives and route past them in one picture or story
  4. Inspire the people within the collective to work towards this picture. They need to be intrinsically motivated to get there.
  5. Find your captains, and decide on the teams that are able to execute your plans
  6. Measure continuously. Measure outcome, but most of all: measure behavioural change. Because without a change of collective behaviour you will never reach a change of outcome.
  Read the casestudy with Madeline to learn more about how to implement these steps of functional strategy.   If you would like to know more about strategy, feel free to send me an e-mail or add me as a connection on LinkedIn and ask me your questions.   The next subject we will discuss in this series is: Martial Arts and Rockstars!