Strategy. Then tactics. Remember that. And remember the key parts of it:
- Strategy precedes tactics, inspiring tactical leaders.
- Strategy directs tactics, enabling tactical leaders.
- Strategy gets out of the way, empowering tactical leaders.
At Coca-Cola Japan, we’d made a couple of strategic pivots. We were proud of our ability to adjust rapidly to changing circumstances. Unfortunately, all that was changing were our PowerPoint slides. The route drivers couldn’t keep up with the changes and were still implementing tactical programs in line with three strategies back.
We’d violated the first two of the above. The tactical leaders weren’t inspired by or taking direction from the strategy changes. They ignored them – if they even knew about them. The tactical leaders certainly felt empowered – just not by our strategies.
Leadership is about inspiring, enabling and empowering others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.
Strategy is about the creation and allocation of resources to the right place in the right way at the right time over time. Strategy comes from the Greek “Strategos,” the art of the general, arranging forces before the battle. Tactics come from the Greek “Taktikos,” deployment of forces in battle.
Putting those two ideas together, strategic leaders inspire, enable and empower tactical leaders with direction, resources, bounded authority and accountability.
- Direction: objectives, desired impact and results, intent
- Resources: human, financial, technical and operational
- Bounded Authority to make tactical decisions within strategic boundaries/guidelines
- Accountability and consequences: standards of performance, time expectations, positive and negative consequences of success and failure
Inspiring and Enabling
The first two go to inspiring and enabling.
From Lawrence of Arabia after Lawrence reveals that he has taken Aqaba:
General Allenby: “You acted without orders, you know.”
Lawrence: “Shouldn’t officers use their initiative at all times?”
Allenby: “Not really. It’s awfully dangerous.”
Lawrence: “Yes, I know.”
Allenby: “I’m promoting you major.”
While Lawrence had acted without specific tactical orders, he had understood the strategic intent and acted accordingly.
Later on, Allenby enabled Lawrence’s further success by making available all the resources he needed.
Different interpersonal leaders have different strengths.
Visionaries tend to be particularly good at the inspirational part and may be less strong on the details of enablement.
Others are good at assembling resources and putting in place processes to enable people and may be less strong on inspiration.
Many more struggle with empowerment. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to trust others to do things you know you can do yourself. But that’s where all the leverage is.
One leader was rolling out an idea. He carefully crafted his message and talking points and took his time enrolling his direct reports in his new idea.
Having successfully accomplished that, he turned his attention to their direct reports. Initially, he wanted to engage in those conversations himself. But then he got out of the way and let his direct reports enroll their direct reports.
And they did.
He was thrilled with the result, but surprised that “They used my talking points.”
They were saying what he would have said if he’d done it himself and then adding their own perspective and leveraging their own relationships to accomplish more, faster than he could have done himself.
That’s empowerment at its best. This leader had inspired his direct reports, enabled them with talking points and then gotten out of the way for them to get done what they all agreed needed to be done.
Accountability and consequences
When Lawrence and the Arabs took Damascus and tried to govern it (well beyond the bounds of Lawrence’s authority,) Allenby chose to stay out of the way and let them fail.
Colonel Brighton: “Look, sir, we can’t just do nothing.”
General Allenby: “Why not? It’s usually best.”
As a consequence, the Arabs failed to govern the city and left Damascus on their own. The British Army took over without any direct confrontation.
That’s how strategic leaders inspire, enable and empower tactical leaders to succeed or fail. Remember that.