Strategy is King…Execution is Queen…Leadership is everything!

January 14, 2014

I thought I kick off the New Year with some musings from my last few months at my current role, which is a mix of brand strategy and operations! They say Virgo’s have a tendency to be perfectionists. The downside of this can lead to myopic and micro thinking. Trying to micro-manage one can get too stuck in details and therefore lose sight of the bigger picture. Not sure what triggers this myopia. Perhaps it is the desire to be in control or perhaps it’s this overzealous aspiration for unattainable perfection. So what’s the point.

Perfection is a desirable goal. One person who has gotten away with micro managing perfection is Steve Jobs. He never compromised. He was ruthless. I think being ruthless with high achievers can be a good thing but if they are not quite up to the task then you can expect some serious problems. Aspiring for perfection as a strategist has worked out well for me. To get the thinking right, articulate it clearly in a well designed keynote, present it after a decent amount of rehearsing has lead to effective results. It easier because the only person you are challenging here is yourself. If you push yourself hard enough then you don’t leave room for others to challenge you so much as a result. The problem is implementation. Because this is where you need a team to achieve your goal. Now back in the day at Ogilvy there was this mantra “to hire people bigger than yourself”. It was a powerful thought that worked really well for me back then, but not so much here in the Middle East. I am not sure if you are aware of the HR problems in Saudi Arabia, which is very much dependent and driven by expat workers owing to the lack of local talent (you can read more about it in my last post here), this mantra was hard to live by. I didn’t always have the luxury to assemble a team of my liking. This is always very frustrating and challenging.

As a strategist this did not impact my work directly so I was OK. However in a brand management role you are talking about a whole new deal. Not only do I have to effectively manage a team directly but also agency partners from across disciplines. The key challenge is to get breakthrough results with a sub-optimal team. Let’s just say my new mantra is that “even a baboon can deliver breakthrough results with an A-Team, getting breakthrough results from a B-Team is the real challenge!” I can’t say I have quite succeeded there. Not sure if this is the right approach but this is all I got right now! This is when I realized just how difficult the task of executing a strategy can really be. By execution I don’t mean just getting things done. I am talking about game changing breakthrough results. I am talking about getting the same level of satisfaction that one feels when a strategy piece gets a C-level thumbs up. To feel the same for an execution well done with your team is harder but feels even greater once done!

Last but not least is leadership support. So many times one is put off track by a directive from the top which makes leadership both the biggest enabler and the biggest hurdle to breakthrough achievement. If your leaders don’t see things the way you do then how can extraordinary happen! Of course the onus of alignment lies on the subordinate. If you go on about without getting a buy in from all the key people involved then you are the only one to be blamed if things don’t follow through as planned later down the road. But what do you do if you are aiming at an illusive, ever-changing, hidden, unknown target. What if your ambitions of a breakthrough result are seen to be an overzealous dream of greatness. What if good enough is simply “good enough”. Perhaps that is the pragmatic thing to do. Perhaps it is a more efficient use of time and resources. Regardless, the biggest leadership lesson that I drew from this is a leaders ability to inspire you, challenge you to the best of your abilities. To be pushed towards a goal bigger than yourself, to feel that you are working to the best of your abilities and eventually getting there is far more energizing than being underutilized and driven to mediocrity. Even when half the amount of work is to be done this way, it saps more energy, leaves your more drained than hard work done for something greater, something that can make a difference.

When I look at my final semester for my MBA, one of the key lessons I walked away with was the importance of leadership and how it changes everything. It’s been more than 16 years to that course now and I cannot stress harder on how important leadership is. How important it is for a leader to get the most out of his team in a way that is energizing and motivating. A true leader from the early days of my career explained this so simply! “The three E’s of leadership are Envision, Enable and Energize”. This advice is pure gold!

So yes strategy maybe the king…execution maybe the queen but leadership is definitely the entire kingdom! The one thing that truly matters!

Feature image by Rrafson used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 

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