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There's No U in Strategy, but It Requires YOU

Chef Gordon Ramsay, CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch, and University of Colorado Coach Deion Sanders

👩🏽🍳 A chef, 👩🏼💼an executive, and 🏈 a football coach walk into a board room…

No, this isn’t the start of a bad Dallas Cowboys joke as football season gets underway. It’s a reflection on topics I’ve written that have resonated with readers and also raised questions of me and how my writing aligns to NBG Strategy Consulting’s focus.

I’ve been asked recently why I write more about leadership and people-focused issues when I am more strategist than leadership coach. A similar piece of feedback I recently received when talking about my portfolio of client projects was “they all seem so different… leadership development, growth planning, M&A due diligence, start up organizational maturity…perhaps you need to have more focus.” Taking a step back, I realized that what was so clear to me was not to others - strategy is void without strong leaders.

As I’ve written about before through the lens of sports, strategy is not a plan, powerpoint, or even a market analysis of pipeline potential. It is the map that charts an organization’s path towards often slightly ambiguous goals and that engenders followership along the way. The key for a strategy to be successful relies on the pattern of behaviors that either align or derail the organization along its journey. Even in an era of AI and automation, all the organizations I know still have human beings making the vast majority of decisions. It’s this human role in implementing strategy that I have seen accelerate success and ensure failure.

I write a lot about the leadership traits to make hard decisions, ask critical questions, and strengthen insight muscles because of how important those capabilities are to achieving growth, transformation, and market excellence. Forbes also notes the changing path to CEO, a role traditionally deemed to just “set the vision and strategy of [the] company and make sure the right people are in the right roles.” No longer is the path to CEO a linear progression, but as Matthew Smith, an executive coach and former chief learning officer at McKinsey puts it in the same article, “Leaders who adapt and pivot with speed in the face of opportunities will outperform those who are over-reliant on the skills and habits that got them to the top.”

I have been in management consulting and corporate strategy for the majority of my career. Where I have worked with, for, and led multifaceted employees who took on new roles with learning agility - growth ensued. Where I have seen executives make decisions, even if they had to change them later - growth ensued. Where I have witnessed vacillation in decision-making, unwillingness to make a sacrifice bunt to move the runners (homage to MoneyBall!), subversion of the enterprise strategy for self-aggrandizing account pride, or simply a lack of understanding that operational excellence is in and of itself not a strategy for value creation or market differentiation - growth was a missed opportunity.

My call to action to readers climbing the corporate ladder and looking to achieve their organization’s strategic success is this: embrace your inner strategist in any role you undertake.

🗺️ Know your company’s ‘map.’

👀 Be the strategist, the “big picture person who looks ahead and considers how decisions will benefit the entire organization.”

🔎 Be “fact-based and less concerned with schmoozing colleagues than with getting to the bottom of important issues.”

And remember that strategy and leadership are interdependent. Success for either requires the other. And if you’re in an organization that doesn’t understand this simple balancing act, think about whether you’re where you belong.

For help building your organization’s strategy or cadre of leaders, NBG Strategy Consulting is here for you!

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