Monday, April 9, 2012

JACOBS COLUMN: Strong Leaders Blend Tactics Into Strategy

Evansville Courier & Press, April 8, 2012

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

This quote by ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu — the author of "The Art of War" — sums up the need to be able to balance strategy with tactics to find success. Whether it is in military planning or on a chess board, in sports or in business, it is critical to be both strategic and tactical as a manager or coach.

A strategy is a plan that is designed to achieve an overall vision. Strategy is needed to start planning, as it creates the overall mission of what is trying to be accomplished.

Whether is the mission of an organization, or the initial planning for how to take on an opponent, strategy will set what direction the team will follow.

The tactics are the decisions that implement that strategy.

The idea of "strategic thinking" is something that every organization is looking for from their leadership. It is important to be task-oriented and to be able to put in the work to be successful. But some leaders spin their wheels trying to do each and every job, rather than focus on creating the plan or strategy for the rest of their organization to carry out.

How does a leader become more strategic?

Paul J. H. Schoemaker wrote an excellent article in Inc. magazine recently about the habits of true strategic thinkers and how they seek solutions.

Strategic leaders anticipate: I tell our University of Evansville soccer players that the reason the windshield in your car is significantly larger than your rearview mirror is because what's in front of you is significantly more important than what you've passed.

Learn from what you've done wrong the previous match. But rather than dwell on past mistakes, forecast how to use those mistakes to make you better in the future. This will also help in focusing on improving rather than looking for a quick fix.

Conversely, you can't get complacent when you find success in your rearview mirror. You need to be able to anticipate new trends that can help you grow and find future success.

Strategic leaders know their team's strengths and enhance them in planning, but they also are open to new ideas to attempt to stay ahead of the competition.

Always look to grow your team by examining what the best in your field do and how you can use some of those ideas.

Strategic leaders think critically: Successful leaders are constantly questioning why things work or don't work and stress the idea of minimizing their team's weaknesses or shortcomings. Every player wants to see his highlights after a game, but the true strategic thinkers want to see the mistakes and work to correct them. To be successful at critical thinking, you have to take ego out of the equation.

Strategic leaders don't go for the quick fix — it is easy for a leader to go for an easy solution to a problem. The strategic leader will look at all the variables to make sure multiple options are tried and tested before coming to a conclusion.

The more sources of data that are explored, the easier it is to interpret the best solution. Try to focus on the entire process of building toward success rather than the blinding lights of the scoreboard. Sometimes compromising ideals to win one game can compromise the chance to win a championship.

Strategic leaders are decisive: Once all of the data is taken in and processed, the strategic leader has conviction to not only make a decision for the organization, but to stand by it whether it results in immediate victory or initial failure. Strategic leaders believe in their decisions and foster a level of belief in those around them.

Creating strategies and implementing tactics are both critical in the success of a good leader and his team. When you have trust and belief in your strategies and the people around you to implement the tactics, success is sure to follow.

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