For a number of years I’ve heard businesses discuss the importance of strategy and what the business strategy is or should be. This is completely valid, but what is often missed out is that strategy without leadership is a complete waste of time. Who is going to take ownership of seeing that strategy through?
I’m going to give two great examples of failed strategy due to the lack of leadership, both the companies names will remain unanimous, both were at polar opposites, one a global corporate giant and the other, though a heavy weight in its own industry, was a charity. Both organisations were at different stages with defining strategy, but both stories should serve to remind you why leadership is critical.
The charity’s senior management decided to ask each department, some with no representation at the senior level, to define its own strategy without any direction from the senior management. The outcome of this was obvious, long before each department attempted to define a strategy, this exercise failed. The strategy (or lack of) failed because of a number of reasons all related to leadership. There was no direction or guidance from the senior management on how each department should go about defining their strategy and how this would align with other departments. The outcome was that only a handful of departments defined anything slightly useful, and then these individual department strategies would clash with other departments views. This led to the creation of a ‘fluffy’ strategy, little meaning and very little value. The senior management were happy though, a fluffy strategy lacks definition and therefore direction, so affectively any individual department’s agenda would be supported under the fluffy strategy.
All this strategy helped achieve was to allow further abuse my various departments by having a fluffy strategy that validated anything they wanted to do. A fluffy strategy is more dangerous than not having one.
The large corporate had a well defined strategy, the nominated leader opened the doors to the palace, sent the customary email to the whole of the business and then slammed shut not only the palace doors, but the iron coated titanium gates. Who was ensuring that the strategy was being carried out? Local heads? The do’ers in the business? Who? Sure the vision had been shared, but then the missions were left to everyone else to carry out, but where was mission control? Was the nominated leader to thinly spread to engage on a regular basis? Disinterested?
There is reason in each of the questions marks above, as no one really knew the answers. Great leaders realise that it is not enough to tell someone quickly what they want, but that they have to remain engaged until those who need to understand actually understand what you are trying to convey and achieve. Even then a good leader remains particially suspicious, and keeps engaged until the point that was conveyed has been delivered against.