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Failing faster

There’s a saying that people pass around a lot like it came from King Solomon: “It’s all about the execution.” As if strategy doesn’t matter. But, of course, it does. Executing brilliantly on the wrong strategy only makes you fail faster. As Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War,” “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

So if strategy is so important, why do many CEOs run from the topic? Many believe that they should be magically endowed with the wisdom of Solomon when they accede to the big chair on mahogany row. It is frustrating and humbling to not have an answer to the most fundamental but difficult question in business.

Several years ago, two colleagues and I did a series of presentations to many senior HR professionals to enhance their business acumen around strategy, financial literacy and change management. During those sessions, I did a workshop on strategic thinking. After defining strategy, I asked how many people could clearly articulate their company’s strategy. About 10 percent said they could. Coincidentally, I’ve given a similar workshop to numerous CEOs, and 80 percent said they could articulate it. Hmm … how is this possible?

Further, several CEOs I’ve had close relationships with tell me they couldn’t articulate their strategy, though they wouldn’t admit it outside the room.

Can you answer these questions?
• What integrated set of actions will allow you to create a sustainable advantage over your competitors?
• Why are you different from your competitors, and what evidence do you have?
• In three or four sentences, what’s your strategy? Would your co-workers all answer the same?

Don’t be the naked emperor, acting as though you know and everyone else knows where you’re going when, in fact, no one does. If you’re a CEO and cannot answer those questions confidently, I have two messages for you:
1. You’re not alone. Don’t be ashamed or feel foolish.
2. You can fix this problem (yes, it’s a problem!) with some help.

King Solomon, by the way, was noted for his wisdom, but legend says his kingdom eventually broke apart for his sins. Don’t let the same thing happen to your company. You don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to craft strategy, but you must have a process and be humble and courageous!

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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