2. Strategy: The Intersection of Leadership & Differentiation
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Without strategy, execution is aimless at best. Strategy is the roadmap and rationale for execution. Although it’s the domain of the CEO and senior lead team, with input and oversight from the board or investors, everybody wants a piece of strategy. There are individuals or entire teams dedicated to it, as evidenced by the word ‘Strategy’ in their titles or names. There’s no shortage of strategy purveyors. If an executive team wants help with strategy, there are myriad consultants and advisors that are happy to charge high bill rates to provide strategic advisory services.
Strategy is the “what” and “why” to execution’s “how”, “when” and “by whom”. It requires foresight and hindsight, imagination and realism. Strategy is hard to quantify but easy to analyze. It’s purposefully incomplete because if it were to be prescriptive, it would be bound to fail. On the other hand, it’s specific, because if it were ambiguous, progress would never be made.
Those accountable for strategy are literally responsible for creating the future (which is the reason for higher paychecks and bill rates). That accountability can be a burden since no one knows what the future holds. Done well, strategy is the guiding light for any organization. Done poorly, it means imminent failure regardless of how well execution goes.
What is the Strategy Intersection?
Strategy is the intersection of leadership and differentiation (see Intersection 2 graphic below).
Leaders are driven by strategy, whether at the individual, team or corporate level. Ideally, they think strategically, plan strategically and act strategically. Good leaders can translate strategy into execution language and, conversely, recognize when execution fulfills strategy (and when it doesn’t). Leadership, as a capability, is not guaranteed by the title an individual is given. There are people with leadership titles that have no leadership abilities. There are people with leadership abilities that don’t have a leadership title. Alas, the world is not fair.
Intersection 2: Strategy = Leadership + Differentiation
Strategies are developed for the purpose of putting organizations on a path to success. Corporate success is usually recognized as the ability to compete for and win business. Winning business means customers have made a choice. Most of the time, in order to make a choice a customer identifies one or more compelling reasons to choose A over B (or over C, D and E as well). Hence the reason Differentiation is the other part of the Strategy Intersection.
Strategy creators must be able to discern a differentiated path for the company and communicate it in a meaningful way so that it can be executed. Discernment of differentiation requires knowledge, insight, observation and an ability to make feasibility-backed decisions about the future of the company. In this context, strategy assumes an improvement can be made on the status-quo.
Strategies can typically be analyzed in two ways. One internal and one external. Internally, the analysis is around whether the strategy can actually be executed. Does the company have the capabilities, or the means to acquire the capabilities, to execute on the strategy such that the intended result is realized?
Externally we assess strategy in terms of whether it results in the return on investment it was designed to produce. That can be measured by one or more of the following: acquiring customers, generating revenue / profits, attracting investors, creating value, etc.
Judgment of success sometimes remains in the eye of the beholder. In reality, luck (good or bad) is always going to be an uncontrollable factor in every strategy. There are no guarantees, rather only the ability to mitigate risk through a better strategy.
What Can Leaders Do?
The best way to strategize is as a team. Leadership means recognizing that while one individual may be exceptionally smart, they likely can’t match the experience, ideation capabilities and strategic perspectives that a team of talented senior leaders can bring to the table.
Differentiation, as a component in the strategy intersection, doesn’t only apply to the output, meaning the strategy itself. It also applies to the inputs of strategy creation, which include the people involved. They must have differentiated backgrounds, ideals and capabilities to ensure that any strategy created is done so using the best and most comprehensive information available.
Wrap Up & Up Next
Successful strategies ‘happen’ when diverse leaders come together at the right time for the right purpose and are aligned.
Next time we’ll examine the 3rd intersection of performance, which is the Leadership Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.