Cynthia A. Montgomery is the Timken Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. One of the programs she teaches is for accomplished executives and entrepreneurs in one of Harvard’s flagship programs.
Very early on in the program she asks these senior business people to list three words that come to mind when they hear the word strategy. Collectively they have produced 109 words, frequently giving top billing to ‘plan‘, ‘direction‘, and ‘competitive advantage‘.
In more than 2,000 responses, only 2 had anything to do with people: one said ‘leadership‘, another ‘visionary‘.
Isn’t that amazing. In over 2,000 responses from experienced, senior leaders and business owners, the term leadership was mentioned only once in regard to strategy. A staggering 0.1%.
As Montgomery, author of the book The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs, says;
Downplaying the link between a leader and a strategy, or failing to recognise it at all, is a dangerous oversight…After all, defining what an organisation will be, and why and to whom that will matter, is at the heart of a leader’s role.
In a McKinsey Quarterly article How Strategists Lead she goes on to say:
It is the leader…who must make the vital choices that determine a company’s very identity, who says, “This is our purpose, not that. This is who we will be. This is why our customers and clients will prefer a world with us rather than without us.” Others, inside and outside a company, will contribute in meaningful ways, but in the end it is the leader who bears responsibility for the choices that are made and indeed for the fact that choices are made at all.
I am constantly surprised by how many leaders do need understand their role in creating, communicating and embedding strategy. Even worse, is the number of leaders who don’t even know the strategy for their business, or business area!