The idea of strategic thinking is currently very popular in leadership literature and conversations. Harvard Business Review dedicates a significant amount of print and on-line space to the topic of strategy. A search on Google for the phrase “Strategic Thinking” returns 18,700,000 results. It has become a catch phrase used to differentiate leaders from managers. Leaders think strategically. Managers think tactically. And even though this characterization of leaders vs. managers is unfair (leaders have to think tactically too), there are good reasons to learn how to think strategically. One such reason came to my attention today while listening to “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek.When we talk about leaders, one of the most common pictures of a leader is selflessness, other’s focused, a promoter and developer of people. When we talk about managers, one of the most common pictures that comes to mind is a numbers person; someone focused on process and results; someone who sees people not as people but as resources necessary to get a job done and feed the corporate machine with results oriented progress. The key difference between the two images is not that one is people focused and the other is results oriented. Rather, the key difference is that the later cannot think strategically enough to be be both people focused and results oriented. Any leader who doesn’t care about the results of the company or organization won’t have a platform from which to lead for very long. The organization will die and so with it will the need for a leader. Conversely, the manager who cannot focus on both people and results may very well get results, but it is very likely that the results will become unsustainable and will stagnate until the organization declines and dies.
A true leader is able to focus on people and results at the same time because a true leader can think strategically. What does this mean? Primarily it means that true leaders can look beyond the immediate and see deep into the future. They can slow down and resist the urge to be managed by the tyranny of the analyst and profit statement. They can see the long term value of serving employees by making them feel safe, investing in their development, and by stifling the impulse to fix the machine by changing the parts (the people). When I think of strategic leadership, I don’t think of the manager who sees a failing employee and kicks them to the curb. I see the leader who sees a human being who needs a coach, a mentor, a more suitable position, a path to self-worth and healthy pride. I’m not naive. I know that some people are just bums. They don’t care and they won’t work, no matter what you do, but I believe those are the rare ones, and I believe they are likely that way because they never had a good leader to coach or mentor them.
True leaders understand that if you will invest in people first, your efforts to drive results will be easier and maybe even enjoyable because it won’t be the manager alone coaxing a compliant workforce forward with incentives and rewards. The results will come because there will be a leader with a group of willing followers who want nothing more than to be a part of something great and give back to the one who gave so much to them. Do you agree? Disagree? I would love to read your response and dialog with you on this important topic.