5 Leadership Lessons: The Leader as Strategist
The Strategist is not a book about strategy, but a book designed to equip and inspire you to be a strategist. Author Cynthia Montgomery, says we have reduced strategy to a right-brain exercise and have lost sight of what it takes to lead the effort. The essential component of the strategy-making process is the leader.
Leaders must not ignore or underestimate their crucial and ongoing role as a strategist. “Strategy is not a destination or a solution,” writes Montgomery. “It is not a problem to be solved and settled. It’s a journey. It needs continuous, not intermittent, leadership. It needs a strategist.”
The myth of the super-manager—that a truly good manager can prevail regardless of the circumstances—is hard to let go. First, you must understand the competitive forces in your industry. How you respond to them is your strategy. Second, even if you understand your industry’s competitive forces, you must find a way to deal with them that is up to the challenge. Third, whatever you do, don’t underestimate the power of those forces.
Strategy is about serving an unmet need, doing something unique or uniquely well for some set of stakeholders. Beating the competition is critical, to be sure, but it’s the result of finding and filling that need, not the goal.
Nothing else is more important to the survival and success of a firm than why it exists, and what otherwise unmet needs it intends to fill. 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.
After you’ve identified your purpose, aligned your activities and resources, and tested the results—all internal working steps—you are ready to summarize your strategy in a statement you can use to communicate both inside and outside your firm…. Make every word real. Make every word count. Long sentences and vague language can obscure your effort to describe what’s really important. At best, they’re unhelpful; at worst, they’re potentially misleading and distracting.
The most important thing is to understand that you are not a manager of strategy, or a functional specialist. Others can fill those roles. You are, first and foremost, a leader. Your goal is to build something that is not already there. To do so, you must confront the four basic questions you have already explored:
What does my organization bring to the world?
Does that difference matter?
Is something about it scarce and difficult to imitate?
Are we doing what we need to do in order to matter tomorrow?
As a leader, you must answer them.
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