Don’t Lead Towards a Strategy – Lead Through It [Article]
Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD | Estimated reading time: 3 min
Strategies are helpful in painting a vision of the future that looks different from today. But, they are insufficient as a tool for leaders to transform an organization. The hard truth is, you can’t transform by just looking at your destination and hoping for the best no matter how beautifully rendered the strategy slides might be. You have to actually lead differently to get there.
That’s why as leaders, you need to commit to leading through your strategy, not to your strategy.
It might sound like semantics, but it is a powerful reframing of the purpose of strategy work.
When you lead to a strategy, you set it up as an end-state—a place you are going. Your arrival time is a factor of when you leave and how fast you go. Here’s the problem with that framing: it is far too easy to let today’s realities take over and wait until tomorrow to metaphorically leave. And before you know it, months have gone by and nothing has changed. You aren’t progressing towards the destination, but there’s still time… until there isn’t. Two years later everyone is wondering why the company never changed direction when where you needed to go was so clearly laid out in the strategy deck. In the meantime, your market, your competition and your customers may have left you behind and instead of a well-paced transformation, you are in crisis mode.
When you lead through the strategy, you immediately start to use it as the lens through which you make leadership decisions.
It forces a level of clarity about the strategy and how to use it in everyday decision making. This creates a platform for potentially difficult but strategically important conversations about investments of time, money, and energy. Leadership decisions can be deeply habituated in people, so you have to work hard to shift how you prioritize, what you reward, how you set goals, and where you direct resources. It can be very difficult to change the default settings on these things, especially when business as usual takes over and life gets hectic.
Forcing yourself and others to lead through your strategy by incorporating it into your day-to-day habits will keep your transformation moving forward in small, meaningful ways every day.
Before you know it, months and then years will have gone by and, through steady progress, you will be in a very different place, doing amazingly cool things with your colleagues and customers in your markets. And you may end up outpacing the competition at the same time.
There are three ways I’ve seen, as a Chief Growth Enabler, that people have success in leading through their strategy, not just to their strategy—and they are all things you can try today:
1. High visibility:
Share with your colleagues how you are thinking about the strategy and how it plays a role in your decision making. Creating visibility around your own thinking and how you activate the strategy as a tool is a powerful signal that the organization is moving in a clear direction.
2. Relentless consistency:
Go back to the strategy for every investment decision and insist that your colleagues do the same. Over time they will develop the habit of using the strategy to drive higher-impact conversations and to better inform decisions.
3. Ruthless honesty:
When it comes to strategy, it’s amazing how often people will contort their logic and interpret data to make something fit rather than making tough decisions and saying no to something that isn’t strategically aligned. Avoid doing this and leave your comfort zone. Just because you can make it fit doesn’t mean you should.
If you are tired of rehashing the same strategy year after year and frustrated by a lack of progress, try reframing your thinking and consider leading through your strategy, not to it. When you develop new habits and strengths as a leader, the outcomes can be tremendous.
Original Article Featured on Forbes: Don’t Lead Towards A Strategy–Lead Through It