Leadership and strategy are easy to talk about. In my experience, the two get more lip service than most other topics in business these days. After all, it's far easier to talk about leadership and strategy than it is to put them into practice.
I've been wrestling with these two topics, trying to understand why there is such a large gap between the words we use and the reality we encounter in the field. I've worked at consultancies that pride themselves on the strategic direction they offer, and I've watched countless leaders wax eloquently about a new direction or initiative. Time and time again, the smoke fades, and there is little substance left. Why is that?
As I've struggled to understand the gap, I've stumbled onto a way to mitigate the underwhelming sensation of empty leadership and strategy.
Leadership and strategy require proof. Without proof, they're meaningless.
Let me explain.
Leadership and strategy both suffer from academic abstraction. What I mean by that is that they're both complicated, nuanced domains, that require a level of reflection and abstraction that make it fodder for endless academic debate. They are domains that demand to be theorized about. This theorization, for better or worse, makes it difficult to exercise in real life.
The disconnect lies in that we demand more out of leadership and strategy than theory. We demand proof.
I worked at a consultancy not long ago that serves as a great example of making sure there was evidence behind leadership and strategy. The CEO decided to expand the company's value proposition by incorporating stronger influences of human centered design. This was a new direction, and required a heavy dose of leadership and strategy. Sure, he theorized what this direction would mean for his company with his C-Suite, but just as important, he generated proof! He set the direction, changed operations to support it and lead the team by example. Proof!
Theory is the luxury of the no-difference-maker. Combine that theory with practice and boom, you're onto something!
So what does it look like to generate proof for these seemingly abstract ideas?
Proof of leadership
This is how I know leadership is in motion:
- Leaders have followers. If you look around and no one is following you, you might be blowing smoke.
- Leaders can point to change. If you can't point to a specific change, then you might be blowing smoke.
- Leader take responsibility. If you can't name the pieces and direction you're responsible for, then you might be blowing smoke.
Proof of strategy
This is how I know that strategy is in place:
- Strategy is about measurable activity. If all you have is a plan, then you don't have a strategy.
- Strategy is equally all the things you're not. If you don't know what you're not, then you don't have a strategy.
- Strategy is about position. If you can't name your position in the marketplace and the context that surrounds it, then you don't have a strategy.
These are just a few things that haunt me when I consider leadership and strategy. Do I have proof? Can I point to evidence?
If you can't identify proof of leadership and strategy, it's time to make the abstract tangible.