Strategy as Rehearsal
I coached someone today who has a personally very important speech to deliver and wanted to get it as right as possible.
As I listened to him speak I was struck by the demonstration of leadership that he was embodying in both what he said and how he said it. For me, it also was a brilliant example of how to solve the strategy/execution conundrum that is the source of so much leadership scholarship.
My coachee was preparing for a valedictory address for an MBA. An entrepreneur himself, he had volunteered on behalf of his entire cohort at a leading business school to deliver a farewell address. That this individual volunteered himself to take this task on, in itself, says a lot about his leadership qualities. Where this meets strategy and execution, though, is that not content with just delivering the speech, he wanted to do it as well as he possibly could. More on this in a bit…
Delivering on Strategy?
The challenge of delivering on a strategy has long been discussed. It’s easy to come up with the ideas, so the theory goes; implementing them with any degree of efficacy is where it becomes really tricky.
Organisations spend a lot of time and money developing strategy so that investors, boards, shareholders, stakeholders and employees can see the vision, hopefully support it, and feel confident that they are in safe hands. My experience of working both at senior strategic levels and at many of the several strata below is that the message becomes weaker the further down you travel. And as you descend, another strategic narrative emerges. This is the narrative of the masses and it goes something like: “Just hold tight guys, weather this out for a couple of years and it will change again. No need to do anything significantly different” The implication of this is that people are incentivising themselves not to change their behaviour. Is it any surprise that execution becomes a challenge?
The Message is Key
If it’s the weakening of the message that allows space for a new one to emerge, organisations have to put as much effort into the effective and meaningful communication of the message as they are developing the strategy itself. My experience is that this is rarely the case, and a strategy that people don’t or won’t hear and act upon is unlikely to be destined for success. Yet good leadership, we all know, is always communicated brilliantly.
In order to create a followership, a leader must be heard. If communications is placed at the centre of the strategy as it is developed (and I’m sure this does happen, I’ve just not experienced it much) then I believe people will have a much easier time “getting on board”. And to “get on board” implies movement and a change of location or destination.
“Good Leaders Deliver”
Back to my coachee, then. Why does his desire to rehearse his speech indicate to me that he is a great leader and will make a huge success of his post-MBA ventures? Simply put he is thinking about the impact of the message as much as the message itself. He not only spent a lot of time creating his narrative but also invested time in making sure it was being heard in the way he wants it to be.
Leaders need followers and to get people to follow you requires you to consider not just the power of your message but the power of your message as it is heard by people. In this way today’s coachee showed leadership in both his strategy and its execution.