Steven's Blog

Start With Strategic Absolutes

Any business, in any situation, in any market always has multiple options for a strategic direction that are all good. It is a terrific boon to buy-in when your leadership team can come up with a strategic direction that matches yours without you having to tell them what your vision is.

However, that rarely happens on its own.

There is no such thing as a single optimum strategy. It is the role of the leader to pick the one he or she wants, based on his or her priorities for the business.

“I don’t want to dictate my vision to my team. I want my team to feel involved when we develop the strategy. Otherwise, they won’t have ownership and won’t be as motivated,” is something some business leaders tell me. They fear being viewed as the proverbial dictatorial boss who barks, “If I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you!”

Such concern is rarely justified. Just because you tell your team upfront what you want before seeking their help in developing strategy does not mean they are not involved. To the contrary, you seek help from your team on how to achieve what you want.

Before beginning any strategy exercise, demarcate the starting point. What are your absolutes, and which are the variables with which you want help? The key is delineating what the discussion is about and focus on the way to achieve an objective, as opposed to whether the objective is valid.

For example, one of my CEO clients decided to drop a non-strategic product line as absolute. There were managers who had been against the idea. However, the CEO had made his decision. He asked for help in deciding how, as whether or not to drop the line was no longer up for debate. Another CEO client of mine is insisting on proactive business development with new customers as opposed to reactive order-taking in sales. He is asking for help from his team in deciding to develop that capability and how to alter sales, marketing, and other processes.

This does not mean that you can never involve your team in developing a vision for the business and seeking their help in defining the highest level strategic objectives. You are entirely free to do that if you want, and many leaders use their teams for this purpose. However, there is nothing improper with deciding vision on your own.

As the leader, that is your prerogative.

It is unrealistic to believe that your team will come to same conclusions with you based on the same understanding of the current business and opportunities if you do not reveal your vision to them. More importantly, it would be disingenuous of you to pretend that you are asking your team to develop strategic vision when there are aspects that are, for you, non-negotiable merely to give a veneer of involvement.

This always backfires. As soon as your team realizes that you had already made your decisions before involving them, they will feel disrespected and insulted. They will think that you have not only wasted their time and effort but also dealt with them as if they cannot see through your façade. They will believe that you view them as needing to be deceived to be cajoled into doing their jobs.

No matter how you would like to involve your team in developing strategy for the business, always be upfront and candid with them.

Never fear that you will demotivate your team just because you have exercised your prerogatives as the leader. Click To Tweet

Delineate your absolutes, and explain why you have designated them as such, so they understand your rationale, even if they would not have made the same decision themselves in your place. Then, ask for their help.

There is nothing that motivates staff more than a candid leader who respects his or her managers and asks for their help.

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