During the Second World War, Winston Churchill had a framed inscription on his desk that said, “It’s not enough to say we are doing our best. We must succeed in doing what is necessary.”
The world demands results. Good intentions and promises are no use to it. And one of the best ways for any leader to get results is to employ a strategy, which is a plan, method or series of actions for obtaining a goal or specific outcome. It doesn’t matter what job you have or how many people you are leading, if you don’t come to grips with the challenges of developing and executing strategies, you’re limiting your abilities to get results.
In a sense, strategies are promissory notes, payment due upon demand. One reason for their becoming less than worthy tender is they are not backed by a Leadership Strategy.
Leadership Strategy — have you heard of it? I bet you haven’t. For one thing, it isn’t taught at business schools. And for another, even in the unlikely case that you have heard of it and know what it is, you probably don’t know how to make it happen.
In this article, I’ll show you what a Leadership Strategy is and ways to institute it. It can be far more important than your standard business strategy.
Whereas a business strategy seeks to marshal an organization’s functions around central, organizing concepts, a leadership strategy, on the other hand, seeks to obtain, organize, and direct the heartfelt commitment of the people who must carry out the business strategy.
The business strategy is the sail, the Leadership Strategy the ballast. Without a Leadership Strategy, most business strategies capsize.
To understand what a Leadership Strategy is, let’s look at your past leadership activities.
Divide a single sheet of paper into two columns labeled A & B. At the top of column A write “business (or organizational) strategies”. On top of column B write, “Leadership Strategies” — in other words, what strategies were used to obtain people’s heartfelt commitments to carry out the business strategies?
Think of the strategies your organization has developed during the past few years. They might be product strategies, service strategies, growth strategies, sales strategies, marketing strategies. You do not have to explain it in detail, just give each strategy a tag and write down the tag.
Did the listings in column A match the listings in column B? Were there any listings at all in column B? That gap between what was in column A and what was in column B is a killer gap. It means that the business strategies haven’t been augmented by Leadership Strategies. And when that happens, results suffer.
I don’t care if you lead three people, three hundred or three thousand and more. I don’t care if you’re in sales, you’re a plant supervisor, a marketing manager or a COO, CFO or CEO. You’re going to need a Leadership Strategy.
And if you don’t think you need any kind of strategy, think again. Whatever job you’re doing takes strategic thinking. In fact, getting in the habit of looking at whatever you do in strategic terms gives you a great advantage in your career advancement.
The roots of the word “strategy” come from two German words, the first meaning an encamped or spread out army and then second word meaning “to drive.” In other words, a strategy gives direction, organization and force to an otherwise scattered organization.
Most business leaders are good a developing business strategies. They’re taught how at business schools. But I’ll bet that 9,999 out of 10,000 leaders don’t know what a Leadership Strategy is, let alone how it fits in with a business strategy.
Leadership Strategies are not taught at business schools because such Strategies find their meaning not in abstract formulations or case studies but in what can’t be taught but must be experienced, process and relationship.
And if you haven’t thought of a Leadership Strategy before, start thinking about it now, because it can boost your career in many ways.
Most leaders develop their strategies in bunkers, without taking into consideration those outside the bunker who have to implement it. Unwittingly, they buy into the “fallacy of automatic reciprocity” — the conviction that their devotion to the cause is automatically reciprocated by the people they lead. It’s a fallacy because reciprocity is not automatic. It can’t be ordered. It must be cultivated and earned.
Here, then, are five steps to developing a Leadership Strategy.
(1) Understand your business strategy. There are many books and courses on developing business strategies. I don’t want to re-invent this wheel. Suffice to say you should clearly develop that strategy.
(2) Identify the dream(s) of your cause leaders.
Why do I say “dreams”? Far from being fluff, dreams are the stuff that hard, measured results are made of.
Look at it this way: Leadership is motivational or it’s stumbling in the dark. The best leaders don’t order people to do a job, the best leaders motivate people to want to do the job.
The trouble is the vast majority of leaders don’t delve into the deep aspects of human motivation and so are unable to motivate people effectively.
Drill down through goals and aims and aspirations and ambitions and you hit the bedrock of motivation, the dream. Many leaders fail to take it into account.
Dreams are not goals and aims. Goals are the results toward which efforts are directed. The realization of a dream might contain goals, which can be stepping stones on the way to the attaining dreams. But the attainment of a goal does not necessarily result in the attainment of a dream.
For instance, Martin Luther King did not say, “I have a goal.” Or “I have an aim.” The power of that speech was in the “I have a dream”.
Dreams are not aspirations and ambitions. Aspirations and ambitions are strong desires to achieve something. King didn’t say he had an aspiration or ambition that ” ….one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'” He said he had a dream.
If you are a leader speaking to people’s aspirations and ambitions, you are speaking to something that motivates them, yes; but you are not necessarily tapping into the heartwood of their motivation.
After all, one might aspire or be ambitious to achieve a dream. But one’s aspiration and ambition may also be connected to things of lesser importance than a dream.
A dream embraces our most cherished longings. It embodies our very identity. We often won’t feel fulfilled as human beings until we realize our dreams.
If leaders are avoiding people’s dreams, if leaders are simply setting goals (as important as goals are), they miss the best of opportunities to help those people take ardent action to achieve great results.
I teach leaders to have their organizations get into the realm of achieving “more results faster, continually.” To do so, you must first take the trouble to understand the dreams of the people you lead.
(3) Create a Shared Dream. If your vision of where you want the organization to go and their dream of where they want to go are shared, you call it a Shared Dream. Furthermore, you can’t go to the next step unless you have developed a Shared Dream.
Look at it this way: The critical issue of the Leadership Strategy isn’t the motivation of the leaders. As a leader, you must be motivated. If you’re not motivated, you shouldn’t be leading. The critical issue is: Can you transfer your motivation to the people so they are as motivated as you are?
(By the way, the Shared Dream is not “win/win”. As you’ll see, it’s much deeper and richer relationship than the self-limiting “win/win”; for unlike “win/win”, the Shared Dream is an on-going relationship process from which flow mutually beneficial expectations and solutions.)
(4) Turn the Shared Dream into a Leadership Strategy. The Leadership Strategy is the Shared Dream manifested by an action plan.
In the action plan, delineate milestones that take you to the Shared Dream. The first milestone may be a comprehensive, rigorous identification of the needs of the cause leaders and how those needs dovetail into the business strategy. (Remember, you can use this process with any number of cause leaders. Just scale it up to the number you require.)
Churchill had it right, ” … we must succeed in doing what is necessary.”
And one of the best ways for any leader to get people to succeed in doing what is necessary is to combine a business strategy with a Leadership Strategy.
2005 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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