The Strategic Leader's Roadmap: 6 Steps for Integrating Leadership and Strategy, by Harbir Singh and Michael Useem
ASK any strategist, no matter their approach to strategy or method, what is the biggest problem they face. Ask any business owner a few months after they have completed their strategy, what is the biggest problem they face. You will get exactly the same answer from both. The strategy is not being executed.
According to Professor Richard Rumelt of UCLA, there are only two types of strategy, “good strategy and bad strategy.” (He is the author of a book by the same name, reviewed in this column in 2012.) The strategy method described at the beginning of this book would fall into Rumelt’s definition of bad strategy, and I wouldn’t read this book for Part I. That said, it is a valuable guide on how to ensure your strategy is executed.
The execution comes from your leader’s ability to integrate the strategy into their leadership method. Many good leaders I have met have never considered this issue, and many senior managers have never thought about what it would take to do so.
Authors Harbir Singh and Michael Useem of Wharton Business School have formulated this process into six steps.
The first step is the realisation of the connection between leadership and strategy.
As a guest at a barbecue one weekend, I was asked what I did for a living. I replied that I am a strategist, to which one of the guests responded that his firm had recently gone through just such a process. I asked him how it was going and he replied: “We are so busy with our regular work, we simply haven’t had the time to even think about the strategy.”
One has to wonder what the regular work could possibly be, except trying to execute the strategy! That is the beginning of Singh and Useem’s prescription for strategic leadership: integrating strategy and leadership.
Strategic leadership is being clear what the strategy is so you can make choices of where to play and how to win, how to prioritise goals, and to ensure you have the human capabilities necessary to achieve these goals.
“Integrating the two areas calls for a continuous and simultaneous discussion of both strategy and leadership questions,” the authors exhort. The key word here is “continuous”: the discussion of leadership and strategy at every opportunity.
The continuous discussions are around the positions of the organisation to meet the strategy, and whether you still have the right people and architecture in place.
Strategy must be taught
The second step on the strategy leader’s roadmap is the acknowledgement that neither strategy nor leadership is a natural skill set; it must be taught.
Academic research, borne out by management practice, has identified several ways this type of development can be achieved. Possibly the most effective is a combination of formal learning, one-on-one coaching and exposure to instructive experience.
These experiences are chosen for the opportunity they offer to force the candidate to apply the learning and coaching if he or she is to succeed. Formal learning, one-on-one coaching and exposure to instructive experience is a powerful combination.
This approach has been behind the success of General Electric, Boeing, American Express, IBM, and Procter & Gamble. And it doesn’t require deep pockets, only determination from senior leadership and the board.
The third step to ensuring the strategy is executed is by identifying the strategic fit between the current managers and the particular challenges the incumbent will face. The executive must have the temperament and relevant experience that aligns with the specific imperatives of the firm at the moment.
If they don’t, then the second step, development, as described above becomes necessary and if that fails, another leader must be sought. This process entails pinpointing the priority skills the leader requires through careful and detailed analysis, not coffee table discussion.
The fourth step is to convey the strategic intent (or what I call your ‘functional strategy’) – how you have to function to achieve the strategic outcomes in a dynamic and fast-changing business environment. “Managers at all levels must also be able to convey strategic intent if they are to effectively exercise strategic leadership”, the authors explain.
The fifth step is to see leadership in layers. Once the most senior leaders have absorbed the strategy, it is up to them to cascade it down to the next level with such clarity that this level can do the same to the level below, and onward.
The last step is to “decide deliberatively”, that is to use the strategy to guide each and every decision, under all circumstances, and every time. No exceptions.
These six steps will ensure that your strategy is executed. They will ensure your expenditure of time, effort and money in your strategy yields a strong return. That does however presuppose your strategy is a good one.
Readability: Light --+-- Serious
Insights: High --+-- Low
Practical: High +--- Low
* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.