How to Lead Strategically: Keeping Above the Forest and Out of the Trees

I find one of my most difficult challenges as a leader is giving my input and keeping my active participation for issue at hand at the right level. I have found this to be true with other leaders I work with, worked for, or coached. It can be difficult for senior leaders to stay informed about issues that affect long-term strategy without feeling the need to get involved in the execution of specific tasks. It is a constant struggle to NOT be ‘pulled into the trees’ while continuing to monitor the pulse of key strategic and organizational decisions.

Why Leaders are Drawn to Doing Short Term Tasks

The first reason is because many leaders need the same kind of reinforcement others need when they wrap up their day; namely, “What did I accomplish?” This is human nature and, as such, is easy to give in to. However, if you are truly leading well, your contribution toward the day-to-day functioning of the organization should be minimal. Instead, you should be spending the majority of your time “planting seeds” that will come to fruition in the future. In many ways, you SHOULD BE the least needed person in the organization when it comes to daily operations. The operations should be able to run daily just fine without you because the leader’s accomplishments should be much more long term.

Secondly, the human need to ‘accomplish something’ is the tendency for the leader to let others pull them into the trees. Customers and vendors will reach as high as they can for help and assistance. If your people are not well developed, lack confidence, are not given the proper tools or have been micromanaged by you in the past, they will bring you in to solve issues in which you do not need to be involved. Micro managing then leads to ‘micro-doing’, which is the worst role for a leader to assume.

 

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One stark example I can remember of a micromanaging culture was when I was sitting in a client’s office who was the CEO of a $30 million company. A maintenance worker walked into the office to ask if he should change the light bulbs in the hall. The CEO said ‘Yes, of course’. I knew right then this company was in trouble. This was NOT the type of decision a CEO of a $30 million company should be involved in! It was no surprise to me that less than three years later, the company was out of business.

Third, I think in many organizations there are not easy ways for senior leaders to keep informed about what is happening in their organizations that impacts strategy execution. The only way for these leaders to find out what is REALLY going on is to get into the details. The organizational culture and the communication tools available do not support open, relevant, honest and real time communication.

Two Suggestions to Stay Above the Forest

Ask yourself every day what you have done to create future long-term value for the organization. If the answer for a week straight is “nothing” then start planting seeds and get out of the trees.

Also, develop your people. Mentor them, and give the permission and support to make their own decisions. Work to create an organizational culture where communications are open and relevant to strategy execution. Make sure your people understand the responsibilities of their job and let them know when they ask you to make a decision on something they should be able to make on their own. Also, STOP micro doing!

Bonus Tip

Invest in a strategy technology that supports real time sharing of strategic accomplishments. One that allows for visibility and transparency and focuses on accomplishing the objectives of the strategic plan. I recommend a software solution such as MPOWR Envision for doing this as this sort of strategy execution software is designed to keep the leader informed and out of the trees.

Being a good leader is hard work. It takes constant focus on the right tasks. It takes a commitment to creating a culture of communication. It takes getting out of the way of your people so they can be great. It takes understanding how you are most valuable to the organization. Finally, it takes being okay with coming to the end of your day and being able to say to yourself, “I planted a lot of seeds today that will grow strong over time!”

 

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Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald is Vice President of Strategy Development and Execution at SupplyCore, Inc. He is also a partner in one of SupplyCore’s international affiliates. Jeff has served as an Assistant Professor of Business and the MBA Director at Rockford University, and has taught classes related to Strategic Planning and Leadership. Jeff is responsible for working with the entire senior leadership to team to develop and guide the strategic direction of all of SupplyCore’s interests. He has an MBA from Eastern Illinois University.

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