I’m sure all the “old” folks out there recall the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” In the realm of leadership… we might look at this infamous phase in a deeper and slightly new light. While on a U.S. National Level…. it appears to still be about the economy (more or less, COVID, etc)… but on a an even greater– more macro level….and for all leaders…it’s the Strategy, Stupid!
“It’s the economy, stupid” is a slight variation of the phrase “The economy, stupid” which James Carville had coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush.
Carville’s original phrase was meant for the internal audience of Clinton’s campaign workers as one of the three messages to focus on, the other two messages being “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care.”
Clinton’s campaign had advantageously used the then-prevailing recession situation in the US as one of the campaign means to successfully unseat George H. W. Bush. In March 1991, days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90% of polled Americans approved of President Bush’s job performance. Later the next year, Americans’ opinions had turned sharply; 64% of polled Americans disapproved of Bush’s job performance in August 1992.
So…20 years ago… it was the strategy…(and maybe a little bit of the economy)
One thing we don’t seem to teach our leaders is strategy development. Over the years, many leaders have implied it simply does not matter. There is a notion that if you are a powerful leader…why does strategy really matter…it’s just a paper drill. BUT…there is indeed a very intimate connection between leadership and strategy. I recently asked a group of captains (leaders, 26-32 years of age) at a professional development forum (SOS) and received a similar response…strategy, mission, vision…they just don’t matter–Well, if that is true…as a good friend of mine, David Byrne says…how did we get here?
Great leaders must first be strategists and that is indeed one responsibility that can never be delegated. It does not matter how big the organization is–or is not. Forging strategy requires very basic questions…like why does our organization even matter? If it disappeared tomorrow–would anyone notice? Why would ANYONE want to be a part of the organization? For an organization to thrive…it must be doing something distinctive–what is your organization offering? Yes…this is important even in a massive bureaucracy like the US Government…
An organization’s purpose defines what it contributes and what it intends to accomplish. Strategy provides the compass for the organizations and points to where we want to go.
Strategy is not a problem with a fixed solution–strategy MUST be fluid and malleable–and it must be responsive, especially in the crisis, complexity, and confusion (C3) we live in today. Without a strategy, without a purpose… the unit is adrift and left to respond to every ripple in the C3 waves. As leaders it is indeed our responsibility to decide where our organization will commit and where it will not.
As a strategist leader we must oversee the crafting and redrafting of our organization’s strategy…we must adapt to contingencies, identify opportunities, respond to changes….the strategist chooses the direction, decides on a best course of action, and takes responsibility for the above decision. Is that why so many leaders decide not to have a strategy? What if we choose poorly? But as a leader….only you can answer the question–does your organization matter? If a leader can not answer the above questions…how can we make crucial decisions that in turn drive the organization forward…and our subordinates…and our customers…and our stakeholders….in the end they will all suffer for a lack of decision and direction.
Leader…you must wrestle with this…tackle the purpose of your unit…search for the differences that matter, define your system of value creation, and pull that together into a statement and strategy that your subordinates can point to and follow.
Now align the organization with its purpose. Mindmaps help…of course I have seen mine ripped apart, ridiculed, and in one case used as a “going away” gift…not sure what to make of that, except everyone knew where we were going and how we were going to get there…as a leader, that is your job.
Draft a mission of purpose statement that reflects what the organizations job is today…what do you do?
Now…where do you want to go? How will your unit get better…where will it be in a year, 2 years, 5 years… write that down…this is your vision.
What are your priorities that will help your unit reach the above vision?
What are your goals on the path toward your vision?
At times we spend way too much time making these projects look pretty or pithy… just write it down, stare at it…it will come to you–and when it does, your subordinates will thank you. They all want to contribute…but they need to know where you are going.
Finally…this is all subject to change. Your strategy must be dynamic and adaptable…leading strategy is a nonstop responsibility. Leaders don’t have to provide all the answers by any stretch…but they have to provide guidance…they have to serve as the organization’s champion…and bear responsibility for decisions that define the unit…while at the same time remaining open to always rethinking the fundamentals….
As the organizational leader…and as a strategist–it is yours to be the guardian of your organization’s purpose… and if you don’t get the strategy right…everything else you do is at risk…are you ready?
We don’t always get this right by any stretch, but we have to try. If there are any questions please shoot me an email or comment and we can provide examples of what has worked for us in the past…every organization and situation is different. There are also some notes, drafts, and documents we have used at http://demarcobanter.wordpress.com
Or for more… check out “The Strategist” by Cynthia A. Montgomery