More Important: Strategy or Execution?

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So, which is it? Which is more important than the other?  Want to know the real answer?

In recent months I have seen this debate popping up all over the place in leadership-minded discussions.  The debates, sometimes arguments, continue for extended periods. A lot like asking motorcyclists which oil is best (get some coffee, it’ll be a long debate<g>)

The reality is they’re tied to each other.  One cannot exist without the other.

If you spend time in Corporate America you will see many, many strategies promoted jtpedersen_321 Ignite_strategy_leader_executionover time.  They used to come in large, black, 3-ring binders. You went to large company meetings, they detailed the strategies in all their grandness, gave you your binder, and sent you on your way.

And, then your binder likely sat on a shelf in your office. Never again to be opened in light of day.  I know I’m not alone. Most of my colleagues had the binders sitting on their shelves, too.

The point is, strategy on its own is meaningless.  It must be tied to execution.  You need the doing as well.  The counter-argument to ‘strategy’ is indeed execution. What you do not need, are people simply being busy doing something all going in their own direction.

Strategy ties everyone’s efforts together, allowing synergy to form, as effort in a common direction leads to achievement.

Amber Naslund, of Brass Tack Thinking, writes that we need more than just strategists.  I agree. But she doesn’t answer the question about why so many people use ‘strategist’ in their resume, their profiles, and their marketing materials.

The obvious answer: Everyone has a natural tendency to shoot for the top of the pyramid. Strategy is seen as synonymous with Leadership. So if you’re a leader you naturally must be a strategist, too. Right? Check. Put it on the resume.

But here’s the other answer, the inconvenient truth. I believe there really are very few real strategists in the world.  They are very few who can really dream, craft a vision, lay out a plan, and then meaningfully articulate it to all involved.

jtpedersen_321 Ignite_strategy_leader_inkPenelope Trunk speaks to some of the reasons I feel this way.  Her article, “Do you think you’re a strategist? You’re probably wrong.” is worth a few minutes.  I particularly liked her comment:

Strategy requires…creating something from nothing. …if you need to see something [first]…you are not doing strategy, you’re doing editing.

Me, there are occasions where I see something needs doing and no strategy exists. In those cases, I envision an outcome, engaging others to refine and build buy-in, and develop a strategy, a plan, for achieving it. Strategy is something I do at times, not who I am. Others can grab the title.

So, what do you think?

Image credit(s):
Maze – Steven Goodwin
Inked Plan – Mike Homme