Temptations of a Strategist (and 3 Ways to Overcome Them)

Joseph Logan

“Strategist” is a sexy label. It means that you are a decision maker—a big-picture thinker. You are someone who shapes the future.

Of course, being called a strategist is different than being a strategist. Earning the label requires patience, tenacity, and focus. It demands an executive who is patient yet relentless. It also requires the integrity to resist temptation.

You will always face temptations when working with strategy. There is the temptation to dwell in analysis, always looking for more and better information to guide decisions rather than better ways to communicate them. There is the temptation to keep strategy a secret in order to protect yourself from competition. There is the temptation to include many urgent components without making decisions about what is important. There is temptation to call things strategy that are in no way strategies.

Executing strategy is about others understanding and buying into your decisions, not conducting endless analysis. Executing strategy is about letting as many people in your organization as possible know what the strategy is with little concern about the competition stealing it (with less than 1 in 10 strategies implemented, what are the chances they could execute yours?). Executing strategy is about the core set of decisions that create value, not including everything and the kitchen sink to placate stakeholders.

If strategy is to move from the expansive and exhilarating process of formulation to the tangible work of execution, you must avoid these temptations. When strategy works well—that is, when it is most likely to be implemented—it is a consistent process rather than an event. Communicating and measuring strategy are more important to execution than formulation. A “good enough” strategy implemented well is better than a brilliant strategy that never gets implemented. There is nothing sexy about shelfware.

These three steps can transform you from an ersatz strategic planner to a true strategist:

  1. Make strategy an ongoing process. Plan and conduct your meetings according to the fundamentals of the strategy and hold to that. When most executives spend less than x hours a month on strategy, this is your advantage.
  2. Communicate strategy relentlessly. Summarize it on a page. Put it on posters. Ask employees about their view of the strategy. Be relentless about communicating and seeking feedback.
  3. Measure what’s important. Most scorecards have too many metrics with too little relevance to the strategy. Manage the number of metrics to the single digits and ask continuously what the metrics are telling you.

Transforming strategy from idea to execution is simple yet devilishly hard. Temptations to hedge and defer are ever present. Relentless execution and feedback move you beyond the binder toward becoming a strategist who defines the future.

That’s a sexy outcome.

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5 Responses to Temptations of a Strategist (and 3 Ways to Overcome Them)

  1. Isla Bragg says:

    Yes!.. and i’m contemplating a 4th step? Break down the stategy into a tactical roadmap that both strategic and self confessed ‘non strategic thinkers’ can relate to and rally on… bitesize pieces that you can engage leaders, managers, and employees to help get you there, whether those chunks are new or changed initiatives, behaviours, policies, processes, governance…? There are so many tactical, practical and relatable levers that can be pulled (and measured!) to make a strategic vision a reality, pervasively throughout the organization, without focusing too specifically on a particular initiative and playbook that may stay stuck on that preverbial shelf unimplemented.

  2. Joseph Logan says:

    Great points, Isla. Seems like that ability to go from big picture to details and back to big picture is one of the defining attributes of the strategist. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (Sun Tzu)

  3. Joseph Logan says:

    Great points, Isla. Seems like that ability to go from big picture to details and back to big picture is one of the defining attributes of the strategist. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (Sun Tzu)

  4. Fez says:

    I have found some of the most challenging environments to develop and implement a strategy are where there is lack of alignment. The strategy might call for changes that the organization is not ready to make and thus the strategy is feasible in one context but hits against monumental obstacles in another.

  5. Chris Vigil says:

    Great Sun Tzu quote…and interesting that 2500+ years-on, it’s as vital a reminder as ever. I’ve seen many leaders stuck by their core incompetence on both sides of the vision-analysis/strategy-tactics balancing act, and too few that have the vulnerability necessary to move organizations forward.

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