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You Must Know the Critical Elements of Strategy

Some would have you believe that strategic leadership entails putting on the blinders and running through any obstacle


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“Having determined your destination, you set sails, motivate rowers, adjust for winds and currents, avoid shoals and rocks, allow for surprises, and expend finite energy efficiently. You control some things, but align yourself with others. You balance, while never forgetting that the reason you’re balancing is to get from where you are to where you want to go.”

— John Lewis Gaddis, “On Grand Strategy”

This is a great metaphor for crafting and executing strategy. You must have a vision, understand the environment you participate in, marshal assets, develop plans and make adjustments as you keep your eye on the destination.

What this doesn’t say is as important as what it does say.

Some would have you believe that great strategic leadership entails putting on the blinders and trying to run through any obstacle, regardless of the developments on the field. Although this sounds “muscular,” it is naive. The concept of strategy is closely aligned with military action, and ironically some of the most spectacular failures highlight the folly of “one way” (e.g., Vietnam). (See A Message From the Generals.)

Likewise, you don’t set sail with no destination, happy to let the winds take you where they will. That might work for a vacation, but it is not a model for business success and ignores the element of human choice. Luck plays a role in all success and failure, but there’s a good dose of observation, planning and choice in successful ventures. Try to start a business with no destination and see how successfully you find funding and hire talented people.

So the path to success lies somewhere between an absolute linear progression toward your vision and a wandering ship of fools.

The bad news is that there’s no one route. The good news is that you have numerous ways you can succeed as long as you pick one and course correct along the journey.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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