This is the time of year when a lot of my clients are conducting their annual strategy meetings. Inspired by what they’re doing, I’m dedicating this month’s issue of At Your Best to the leadership competency of developing and shaping strategy. Since that’s a skill set that all leaders need to develop, not just the ones at the top of the organization, I’m sharing five questions that will make you a better strategist. Read on for the questions and my usual update on where I’ll be this month and a special Stuff We Love dedicated to the late, great Stephen Hawking.
Five Questions That Will Make You a Better Strategist
In my early days as a coach I had a lot of one on one engagements with high potential leaders who were on their way up. When I solicited feedback from their colleagues, their managers and higher level executives would often tell me that my client needed to be more strategic. When I asked them what that would look like I would sometimes hear, “Well, they’d be better at strategy.” Not particularly helpful or actionable feedback there.
The conclusion I’ve come to over the years is that a lot of leaders get intimidated by or shy away from strategy because they think it’s more complicated than it is or that it’s above their paygrade. Not true. Every leader needs to have a strategy because the picture it creates and the plan that enables it is what gets everyone on the team rowing in the same direction.
Here are five questions to ask yourself that will make you a better strategist. (To really turbo-charge your strategy, use these questions as a discussion agenda with your team or peers.)
What are we trying to do? This question basically addresses the first of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Begin with the end in mind. As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Get clear early about what your picture of success looks like. For bonus points, spend extra time defining the metrics or conditions that indicate you’ve gotten there.
Why are we trying to do it? This question tells you whether or not the strategy is worth pursuing. What does success do for your different stakeholders – your customers, shareholders, employees, communities and others? What are the benefits? If you can answer why it matters, you and your people are much more likely to follow though in a meaningful way.
Who are we doing it for? I alluded to this question just a moment ago. Who are the key stakeholders that the strategy serves? Drawing on the latest best practices from design thinking, do some research to figure out what their needs are and how your strategy can meet or exceed their expectations.
Where are we now? This question begins the gap analysis between where you are and where you want to go. What’s working that you want to keep doing? What strengths can you build on? What skill sets or resources are you missing? Who’s with you? Who’s against you? Who doesn’t care but needs to for you to succeed? Whose help will you need? Your answers to those questions and others like them will set you up for the tactical planning needed to execute your strategy.
What do we have to do differently to get where we want to go? If you’ve done a thorough job answering the where are we now question, the next steps on what you have to differently should be pretty apparent. The key is to sequence the work. You’re not going to be successful if you try to do everything at once. Frankly, you probably don't know enough at this point to even bother trying to figure out what the end game steps are. Things are going to change a lot between now and then so you’ll need to adapt. Get started by taking the steps you need to take to get started. (Read that last sentence again and it will make more sense.)
Where I’ve Been Lately and Where I’ll Be…
March 22: Vienna, VA to deliver a day of Next Level Leadership® Group Coaching for high potential leaders of a national non-profit agency.
All month long: Cyberspace for lots of interviews for my new podcast Lead at Your Best, Live at Your Best
April 5 and 10: Cyberspace to lead follow-up video conferences with executives participating in a year-long development program for a Fortune 500 client.
April 13: Charlotte, NC to deliver a keynote on Resilient Leadership to participants in the Leadership Development Forum program of a Fortune 500 client.
April 16: Las Vegas, NV to deliver a keynote on Leading at the Next Level to the Healthcare Compliance Association.
April 17: Cyberspace to lead a progress check-in video conference for high potential leaders in the Next Level Leadership® Group Coaching program.
April 19: Cyberspace to deliver a webinar on enterprise-level leadership for rising leaders of a Global 500 client.
Stuff We Love – Stephen Hawking Edition
Even though most of us don’t fully understand his work, physicist Stephen Hawking was beloved around the world for his mind, his courage and his spirit. His death at age 76 this month inspired a lot of touching and thought-provoking tributes. Here are a few of my favorites:
Stephen Hawking’s Most Profound Gift to Physics
Mind Over Matter – Stephen Hawking Obituary by Roger Penrose (read for a deep but accessible summary of his work)
Stephen Hawking, Force of Nature
Stephen Hawking Taught Us a Lot About How to Live
Stephen Hawking to be Interred at Westminster Abbey (alongside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin)
And, if you’d rather see the movie, watch The Theory of Everything.
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