What makes a great strategist?

01.12.17

What is strategy?

Strategy is choosing where to play and how to win.

A business strategy is a road map of ordered priorities that will take you from where you are now, to where you want to be in the future, with a full understanding of why you are in business and an underpinning of commercial reality.

The 4 key questions strategy should answer are:

  1. Choice: strategy is about tradeoffs, about focusing efforts, choosing a single path of action among alternatives and ignoring other opportunities
  2. Where to play: what markets and segments to pursue, and which ones to ignore
  3. How to win: how will you create value and differentiate from the competition
  4. Language – how will you communicate the strategy to your staff, stakeholders

As a strategist, it’s crucial to understand what strategy is all about. A great strategy is the starting point of every strategy execution journey.

But besides knowing what strategy is all about, you also need to cultivate the right attitude towards strategy.

Everyone thinks that they are a strategist. There are a few good ones who keep you engaged. They claim they are “Thought Leaders”. The things that great strategists do on a day-to-day basis may not show up on the average radar. But for those who look carefully, they become visible.

Here’s a list of 7 things great strategists frequently do, adapted from Jeroen De Flander as Strategy Execution Leader – 7 secret habits of a great strategist:

1. A great strategist makes us care

Good strategists formulate strategy using phrases like: “We want to outperform the market and have a ROI at least 2 percent higher than the industry average in the next 5 years.”

And while this phrase might perfectly capture the company’s ambition, the truth is most people just don’t care.

Great strategists go beyond PowerPoint presentations.

They look for ways to make us care about the company strategy.

They look for ways to turn an abstract idea into a concrete race that we all want to be part of.

Just think about John F. Kennedy who made an entire nation care about NASA’s strategy by turning aeronautics into a race every American wanted to win: JFK said:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

2. A great strategist keeps us focused

Good strategists know that strategy success depends on our ability to stick to the choice we have made.

Great strategists stand out because they dare to defend that choice and say NO.

They stand out because they are willing to take an unpopular stand like sacrificing short-term results to create long-term value.

They know that strategy is about choice and choosing to stick with your thinking.

And, by their example, they inspire others to do the same.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do

– Prof Michael Porter

3.  A great strategist facilitates our decision process

When employees complain about the company strategy, they say things like “The strategy is not clear”, or “Our organization doesn’t have a strategy.” But the underlying point they want to make is “I don’t know what I can do to help”.

Bad strategists don’t pay attention to this hidden message. If the strategy message is clear for them, they assume it’s clear for everyone.

Great strategists strive to get everyone on board the strategy ship. They will provide strategy information in a language people understand.

A great strategist provides prioritization guidelines to align day-to-day choices with the big choice.

4. A great strategist simplifies our lives

Every strategist knows that complexity creates opportunities in the outside world. Why else do you think there are a million different subscription options for your mobile?

Great strategists also know that copying this complexity on the inside will make life for everyone a living hell.

5. A great strategist tells us stories

Stories are powerful because they provide context and create an emotional connection.

In other words, the right story wrapped around an idea makes the core message stickier—easier to remember. A PowerPoint or Excel presentation doesn’t.

That’s why great strategists tell stories.

6. A great strategist digs in

Strategy Execution isn’t something other people should worry about while doing something far more important.

Great strategists know this, and that’s why they have Strategy Execution high on their agenda as well.

They know that if they don’t, PowerPoint will end up catching dust on desks until the next strategy exercise.

7. A great strategist educates us

Bad strategists show off their strategic thinking skills at every opportunity.

Good strategists never brag about their conceptual strengths.

Memorable strategists make it their mission to share their knowledge, educating others on what strategy is all about, and how to ask the right strategy questions.

In short, memorable strategists inspire others to think the unthinkable.

And then—like everyone else—they roll up their sleeves and help the organisation succeed.

I will leave you with some great quotes and my views:-

Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the Prussian and German general staffs from 1858 to 1888, Moltke possessed two important characteristics that made him a superior strategist:

  1. The ability to understand the significance of events without being influenced by current opinion, changing attitudes, or his own prejudices.
  2. The ability to make decisions quickly and to take the indicated action without being deterred by a perceived danger.

To Sum it up

A great strategist is engaging and asks questions and they truly care.

The two characteristics support each other—and apply to managers and entrepreneurs as much as generals and national leaders.

For example, General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch has said,

“Strategy follows people; the right person leads to the right strategy.”

If you like this article and want to discuss strategy and how I can help you, give me a call on 0400 761 700 info@carmalkconsulting.com.au and check out www.carmalkconsulting.com.au

Adam Carter | Carmalk Consulting

Chief

M: 0400 761 700

W: (07) 3869 2573

E: info@carmalkconsulting.com.au

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