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The Forgotten Side of Strategy

Last night we had an interesting discussion in our Strategic Management class on an important and often overlooked element of successful strategy.

November 28, 2012

Last night we had an interesting discussion in our Strategic Management class on an important and often overlooked element of successful strategy: leadership.

To prepare for the night’s discussion, students read a case and few short articles including two by Cynthia Montgomery: “Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy”, and “How Strategists Lead.”  

While the majority of the class time was spent discussing the case, many of the most important points can be summarized in a short list of what is in the leader’s job description as it relates to strategy.  It is the leader’s job to:

  • Define the organization’s current and future state – and why it matters and to whom - and communicate it clearly, consistently and widely.  What is your organization’s (or unit’s) current and future state?  Can you define it clearly?  Is this definition accurate or aspirational? How is your description different from how your competitors would describe their organizations?  

  • View the competitive forces at work in an industry clearly and realistically and understand that these forces are likely beyond the control of the organization.  What are the most important forces impacting your organization?  What can you do to minimize the negative forces and maximize the positive ones?  Are there new competitors emerging?  What are they doing differently and what can you learn from them?

  • Initiate frank and open discussions of facts, ideas, alternatives, and trade-offs.  When was the last time that you looked at the facts and had a true discussion about the meaning and implications of the data you see?  Are you considering a wide array of alternatives?  What trade-offs are you making, either implicitly or explicitly? 

  • Understand that strategy and execution are two sides of the same coin.  A beautiful vision without a realistic plan for getting there isn’t a strategy – it’s a beautiful vision without a realistic plan for getting there.  When thinking about strategy, are you consciously thinking about how it will be implemented, who will lead the various charges, and what you will stop doing to start doing new things?

  • Appreciate that strategy is not merely an annual exercise or a well-researched document, but a living vision, backup up by an action plan that is expected to change over time as the market evolves.  When was the last time you really thought deeply about your organization’s strategy?  How has your strategy been adapted over time to fit new realities in the marketplace?
  • Recognize that, ultimately, it’s about the people since they make the organization and will continually renew it.  The leader is responsible for making sure you have the right mix of talent and nurturing and growing this talent for the success of the individual, the organization and, potentially, for society.  What is your hiring strategy?  Are you retaining those with the highest potential?  How are you developing people?



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