Can you be a leader without a strategy? Let’s say your market share has shrunk in half and you’re going to be forced to lay off half your staff. What’s your strategy? Or your children have just moved into a new school and they’re flunking every class. How are you going to design your strategy? Or worse yet, you’re the president of the United States, and the Islamic terrorists (now called ISIS) have formed a unified front against our country and have publicly declared their dedication to our destruction. Are you going to call a press conference and look into the eyes of the millions of people who depend on you, and say: “Well, we just don’t have a strategy yet”?
Our Hebrew author of the book of Exodus could never put his Yahweh in that weakened position. His Yahweh tells Moses: “I know the king of Egypt will not allow you to go unless he is forced by a strong hand; here’s my hand -- full of miracles.” Nine of them. A strategy designed to make the hardest heart melt: drinking water turned to blood; frogs swarming through homes; gnats and flies and locusts and hail, causing boils on the skin and death to the animals.
But it doesn’t work. The pharaoh won’t budge. Now what? Well, if it’s a real strategy and not just a wish list, there has to be one more element. This last element is one you never wanted to use. It’s the half-price sale of your entire inventory. It’s moving your entire family to another town for the sake of your children. It’s the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. For Yahweh, it was the murder of the first born sons of every Egyptian. How many? Hundreds? Thousands? It doesn’t matter. One child would be enough. Unless you’ve suffered through the death of your own child, you have no idea how horrendous this is.
But if you are dedicated to the end result, if you are convinced your goal is worth having, you will include in your strategy all the elements of success. Regardless.
And here we enter the tricky, slippery slope we call “the end justifies the means.”
When President Truman was given the last arrow in his strategy quiver to end the war with Japan, he had to weigh the end and the means. And he did this painfully and carefully and completely. He didn’t drag it out over two summers. He didn’t procrastinate and wish it would go away. He didn’t pretend there just wasn’t a strategy “yet.” He hunkered down and did it. We have to do the same thing. Very seldom will the last element of our strategies be morally controversial. But quite often, they will be difficult and, at times, painful.
Like total knee replacement. Once I decided on the surgery, I needed a winning strategy, one that would not only get me through the three days in the hospital but also the five to six weeks at home. My nurses taught me to gauge my pain on a scale of 1 to 10, and I needed a strategy to keep the pain level below 5 while continuing to exercise. Part of the strategy included gaining back the 25 pounds I lost and the strength that went with them.
There are three things to remember about strategy if you’re the leader:
1. Whenever you face a serious problem, design a “winning strategy” that eliminates and destroys the problem. Quite often, if you simply try to “manage the problem,” it will end up managing you.
2. Be as dedicated to the strategy as you are to the end result.
3. Measure carefully both the end and the means.
It’s not easy to be a good leader, but that’s why we pay you the big bucks.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.