Leadership is Strategic Execution

I just finished an excellent book on strategy – Plan to Pivot by Gerry Starsia (link).  I highly recommend it to anyone starting out in the strategic planning field.  Gerry mentions that in the past it was common to put leaders into three buckets: visionaries and operators, planners and implementers, and thinkers and doers.  But the pace and complexity of business make these distinctions irrelevant.  Organizations need leaders with the experience, knowledge, skills, and education to do all three.  We must develop highly skilled strategic executors across the enterprise.

I share three steps you can take to develop strategic executors in your organization.

Foster the Right Mindset: Leadership is a Verb

Help your people to think of leadership as a verb and not a noun.  It’s active, something you can do, not an immutable quality you have.  Strategy execution means moving an organization, process, and/or idea from Point A to Point B.  I break strategic execution into three interrelated parts:

  1. Developing and articulating a compelling vision of where you want to take an organization
    (visioning and thinking)
  2. Fostering a two-way dialogue about how to achieve that vision
    (planning and thinking)
  3. Garnering the resources and eliminating the barriers to achieve the vision
    (implementing and doing)

Asses the current skill level of your colleagues in the above three buckets.  What are the person’s strengths, and what are the opportunities for development?

Design Jobs with True Accountability

Developing strategic executors require staff to be exposed to the end-to-end processes of guiding an idea from a) concept to product/service launch; b) from initial launch to early growth and profitability; c) from early growth to rapid expansion; and/or d) from maturity to turnaround or divest.

Managers and talent development professionals must provide opportunities for people to lead businesses at the six different life-cycle stages to become effective and well-rounded strategic executors (pre-venture, existence, early-growth, expansion, maturity, decline).

Before each new assignment, share four key pieces of information to maximize the probability for success and to drive accountability:

  1. Control – clearly describe what the leader will control. What is their budget?  How many people report directly to them and what is their span of control?  Which decisions do they get to make on their own, and which require input from others?
  2. Success – how is success defined? What metrics and measures will be used?  What monetary incentives are in place if any (bonus / stock options)?
  3. Partners – who must the leader influence to achieve the desired goals? Share advice about dealing with key stakeholders.
  4. Natural Ally’s – who wins when they win? What other business units, operational functions or people benefit when they achieve their goals?  Knowing this broadens their spheres of influence and understanding of quiet champions.

By providing this information, you have clearly set performance expectations and have a framework for providing feedback during and after the assignment.  Was the person successful because they built strong teams and influenced key stakeholders?  Or were they not successful because they managed resources poorly and did not effectively deal with resistance from other areas?  Taking the time to review the links between intentions, behaviors and results is a critical step to growing effective strategic executors.

Offer Mastermind Groups – Mentoring with a Twist

Many organizations offer mentoring programs as a method for growing leaders.  Good mentors share their knowledge and advice to guide a mentee’s professional growth.  This approach is great, and needed, but insufficient to foster true strategic executors.  Why?  Because the advice is usually one-way.

Creating mastermind groups, with a senior leader serving as a group mentor is a better approach.   A mastermind group is a group of peers (say 5 to 10 people), who meet to give each other advice and support.  Your goal is to create an environment where leaders are pushing each other to improve.  Human resource leaders call this a community of practice.  The group fosters mutual accountability.  The mentor’s role is less directive in this situation.  Their goal is to attend some, not all meetings, listen, and provide access to resources and knowledge when needed.

Mastermind groups create psychologically safe spaces to share and discuss experiences and feelings as people lead their businesses and functions.

Bottom Line

Accelerate your business by developing strategic executors.  Success in a complex business environment requires leaders with the right mindset, well designed jobs that promote accountability, and a safe environment to learn and grow.

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