Monday, June 18, 2012

Do You Know What Strategy Is?

There is a significant link between leadership and strategy, but according to Cynthia A. Montgomery, the link has been broken. “Specialists help managers analyze their industries and position their businesses for competitive advantage…[but] strategy is confined to an annual planning process…What’s been forgotten is that strategy is not a destination or a solution. It’s a journey. It needs continuous, not intermittent, leadership. It needs a strategist.”

In Montgomery’s new book entitled, “The Strategist – Be the Leader Your Business Needs,” readers are urged to embrace the role of strategist and confront the most compelling questions at the heart of their businesses. The key tool is awareness by the top leader or strategist. “The strategist is the one who bears the responsibility for setting a firm’s course and making the choices day after day that continuously refine that course. That is why strategy and leadership must be REUNITED at the highest level of an organization.”

At its core, strategy is about serving an unmet need. But how do you do this? Montgomery answers this question with engaging examples from IKEA, Apple, and Gucci, and also poses difficult questions: If your company disappeared today, would the world be dramatically different in the days ahead? Would your customers miss your product or service? If your customers wouldn’t miss you when you’re gone, how much do they really need you NOW? If you don’t possess this uniqueness, then you’re missing a strategy.

Strategy begins with a clear business purpose. Consider these statements and see if you can name the companies:

[1] To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

[2] This company is built upon finding ways to do online search better and faster in an increasing number of new places and in ever more efficient ways.

[3] This company is the only manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles worldwide that concentrates entirely on premium standards and outstanding quality for all its brands and across all relevant segments.

Did you identify Nike, Google, and BMW? These companies have a niche, a place in their market, and a clearly-defined purpose that resonates among their customers and the public at large. (Of course, marketing plays a role, but that’s a separate blog post.) From there, they can build an organization – a system of advantage – that enables them to deliver on that purpose. Together, that’s a company’s strategy.

Does your company have a strategy statement that explains your purpose, means of competition, and unique advantages? If not, answer these questions:

[1] Who do we serve?

[2] What products or services do we provide?

[3] What do we do that’s different or better?

[4] What enables us to do that?

As another challenge, ask yourself, what companies in the news today do you see suffering because they lack a strategist leader? Please chime in.


  1. Hey Debbie,

    I like what you write and i think that part of a leader's job is to continuously articulate the mission of an organization. That said, it occurs to me that much of what you mention as strategy focuses on the unique and compelling mission. To me, strategy follows mission, (and vision and values) but is different. Again, to me, strategy asks the question "What is the pattern of activities and behaaviors I will undertake to live my mission, demonstrate my values and move towards my vision?"


    David Kemper

    1. Thanks for your comments about aligning mission and strategy, David. There is definitely a connection between the two, but as Cynthia points out eloquently in the book, there are differences.


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