Dig into the development plan of many senior leaders and you are likely to see one need area rise above the rest – strategy. The common lament is that the executive “is not a strategic thinker” or “does not grasp strategy” or “does not have a clear strategic vision.” I assert that this is less an issue of capacity and more one of focal length. Said another way, they are simply not looking far enough into the distance.
To prove this point, I submit to you the Government of the United States. There is clearly no larger or more strategically important entity in the world. With a near $ 16 trillion economy and a larger defense spend than the next 14 largest defense spending countries combined, you would hope that there is a long term strategic vision and plan for our place in the world. But alas, it is not so. Why? Simple. Because of myopia.
In the case of the United States, this myopia is caused by our election cycle. Every two years we face mid-term elections in the US House of Representatives, placing the control of that chamber of Congress up for grabs. Add to that a perpetual Presidential campaign calendar that has recently elected presidents worried about reelection the moment after swearing-in and the stage is set for a strategic horizon of about one year or so. Strategies are not established over one year horizons, since the impotence of our lawmakers to implement strategic change on a consistent basis.
In the same way, executives minimize their strategic impact when they take the short view. With the challenges of a global marketplace, increased competition and a slow growth economy, it is all too easy for executives to keep their head down and attend to the knitting of day-to-day exigencies. Coupled with poorly designed incentive schemes that disproportionately reward near-term performance, it is little wonder that strategy suffers. But there is hope.
An executive can build their strategic capacity by using the same discipline that drives execution, ie process focus. By implementing a process that forces a consistent longer term view of the business, macro / micro-economic factors, markets and competitors and trends, an executive can consistently build their strategic muscle. Like most fitness regimens, this muscle gets stronger with consistent, disciplined exercise.
So if you are one of those executives with a perceived shortfall with strategy, I encourage you to lift up your head, focus on the more distant horizon and implement a process that requires you to consistently evaluate the lay of that land.