The Secret Sauce of Strategy

We tend to be sloppy about the word “strategic.” If we were sitting in a group and I asked you to define it, I suspect people would struggle with the task. They’d probably default to someone who can write a strategic plan. Yawn.

Yet when I think about leaders I admire, strategic would be a word I would use to describe them. Here’s what I mean by it:

Strategic people take a long, high view of a situation. They have perspective. It’s a skill that helps them clarify what is fixed (such as values and mission) and what can flex (such as approaches) — which make them highly adaptable. Then, equally importantly, they are able to link that big picture understanding with the current reality and map a path to connect the two.

But there’s more. The third ingredient in highly strategic people is a secret sauce that I can only describe as the alchemy between wisdom, shrewdness (in the best sense of that term) and serendipity. It’s the element that elevates strategy from planning to something really smart and almost magical.

Strategy is more of a skill than a product. And skills are learnable. Here are a few tips to strengthen your strategy muscle:

  1. Lift your gaze and expand your view. Develop habits that expose you to a larger world, particularly if you are prone to getting lost in the weeds of daily operations. Pay attention to the diversity of your advisors. Read widely. Change your scenery. Travel if you can.
  2. Create space. With no margins in our schedules and therefore in our minds, it is hard to pull ourselves out of the day-to-day. A couple of great leaders I know schedule in work time to think!
  3. Expand your network. Unlikely connections spark creative possibilities. Hang out with people different than you, in worlds adjacent to yours.
  4. Know what your team does. Big picture thinkers can be hard to work for, because they often fail to appreciate the practical work it would take to enact their big dreams. The better you understand the work your people do, the easier it will be to connect your vision to their reality.
  5. Stick to the non-negotiables. If you’ve defined fixed elements that are critical to your team’s success, be sure your own behaviour and decisions reflect that commitment. Then be much less sticky on the things you’ve identified as flexible.

For more, have a look at ELASTIC. It comes out on February 7 and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

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