The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs by Cynthia A. Montgomery brings strategy front-and-center and challenges leaders to embrace it as a core and continuous action. Strategy is not something to hand-off to someone else, and it is not to be just a document safely stored away. Strategy and leadership need to be interconnected, active, engaging, complete, and purpose-filled.
The Strategist is a solid read. It sets the stage for why strategy is an essential leadership responsibility while providing frameworks to use in developing one that is meaningful and adapts with changes. Although I read Good Strategy. Bad Strategy. The Difference and Why It Matters first, The Strategist would have been a great precursor. Together, they are powerful reads for leaders.
The Reality of Strategy
“Having seen hundreds if not thousands of such strategies in their initial form, what is clear to me is this: Many leaders haven’t thought about their own strategies in a very deep way. Often, there is a curious gap between their intellectual understanding of strategy and their ability to drive those insights home in their own businesses.” (The Strategist, page 11)
Some leaders view strategy as an MBA activity. It is something others do, something a consultant does. This mindset, quite simply, is wrong-headed and short-sighted. If different levels within an organization are to know what to do, how to do it, and why they should do it, then leaders need to develop a real, meaningful strategy.
The other part of this reality is the misperception that a strategy is done once. By now, we all know that change is the only constant, so why wouldn’t a strategy adapt as conditions change? Strategy needs to agile, re-visited and made a part of an ongoing conversation and action.
Failing as a Strategist
“The story you will write as a strategist will be set against the backdrop of your industry. It must be true to its realities, while having a difference that’s all its own.” (The Strategist, page 37)
There seems to be, at least, two failings of strategists. The first is overconfidence, and the second is ignorance.
Overconfidence comes in the form of the super-manager. As a super-manager, we believe we can “manage” ourselves out of any challenge. It is the myth of the super-manager. Leaders are not super-heroes. They cannot just apply their special powers, where others have failed, and just change the circumstances and manage their way out of it.
Overconfidence is related to ignorance. The structure and forces of the industry will not change just because your business thinks so. Ignorance is not bliss; it is dangerous. Strategists need to understand the structure of the industry they compete in and determine how to navigate the structure. The structure will not change, but your business can adapt. As pointed out in the book, “…a significant measure of a firm’s success depends on competitive forces beyond a manager’s control, and they use that knowledge to their own advantage – by picking playing fields where they can win and, within those fields, carefully positioning their businesses to work with, not against, the forces.” (The Strategist, page 31)
Strategy is more than just “managing” our way through a challenging industry or ignoring the dynamics of an industry. Doing these will likely result in failure. Within the book, several company examples bring these concepts to life and illustrate the value of strategy done right and the lessons of strategy done wrong.
Leading with Purpose and Strategy
“Every concept of strategy that has entered the conversation of business managers – sustainable competitive advantage, positioning, differentiation, added value, even the firm effect – flows from purpose.” (The Strategist, page 49)
This is where The Strategist really excels. It drives the vital points of defined purpose and whole strategy.
A purpose needs to be real. Here are four relevant elements:
- “A good purpose is ennobling.” There needs to be a level of inspiration; it delivers meaning to the people in the organization and the work they do.
- “A good purpose puts a stake in the ground.” It defines what the organization will be and not be. It is about trade-offs.
- “A good purpose sets you apart; it makes you distinct.” It is not about generic descriptions – software company or non-profit organization. It is what makes the organization different from others and what may drive innovation and approach.
- “Above all, a good purpose sets the stage for value creation and capture.” It must create good economic outcomes.
The ultimate question: “If your company disappeared today, would the world be different tomorrow?” (The Strategist, page 56) A tough, sound question to answer and lead by.
To support the purpose, a complete strategy needs to be in place, and it includes many of the aspects Michael Porter outlined many years ago in Competitive Strategy. The author here outlines six hallmarks of great strategies:
- Anchored by a clear and compelling purpose
- Add real value
- Clear choices
- Tailored system of value creation
- Meaningful metrics
After reading The Strategist, the essential nature of having a sound strategy and why leaders need to embrace the work of developing, implementing, and adapting is clear. A passionate strategist is a successful leader, and a successful leader is a passionate strategist. They are bound together and interconnected tightly.
Is there a book on strategy you use as a guide or would recommend?
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The book came from TargetMarketing with the connection made through the Lead Change Group. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations.