Effective Strategy

Precision, then process

by Nicholas Dungan

Strategy consists of a clear, realistic goal and a clear, realistic path to that goal. That is all. Anything else is not strategy. Dreams or vague objectives do not constitute strategy: ‘increase market share’, ‘make the world better’, ‘be the best’ may be inspirational or aspirational mottos, but they are not strategy. They do not specify a clear, realistic goal nor a clear, realistic path to that goal.

Effective strategy depends on one precondition – precision – and thereupon unfolds in five movements which constitute the essential direction of the strategic process.

The precondition of precision requires deciding the scope and purpose of the strategy. Is it to increase market share? If so by how much, when, in which markets, through what means? Does it apply to a specific service or product of the enterprise, or a given geographic market or market segment? Is it primarily driven by customer needs, competitive pressure, technological change? Or is it ‘grand strategy’, comprising all the strategic elements germane to the organisation over the long term? For a nation, a company or any other form of societal organisation, the first imperative of strategy is to debate and define in precise terms what kind of strategy is being contemplated, what it is meant to achieve, what it is for.

Once this precondition of precision has been satisfied – and while the discussion and analysis needed to meet the preconditon of precision are highly valuable exercises in and of themselves – then the process of strategy with its five main movements can begin. We refer to these as movements, not stages or steps, because, like the movements of a symphony, they fit together, are intertwined and succeed each other perhaps in different tempos and timbres but always with a similar leitmotiv, which is that the whole strategic process serves the precise strategic purpose.

The five movements are:

  • assessment: where we are today
  • objectives: where we want to go
  • plan: how we are going to get there
  • implementation: putting the plan into practice
  • impact: evaluating how well we have done.

These movements encompass the following components.

1 Assessment

  • Assemble a multi-disciplinary team from within the organisation with clear top-level commitment.
  • Review all available sources of applicable strategic intelligence within the organisation.
  • Examine the organisation’s strategic performance today, benchmark it against competitors.
  • Score the organisation vis-à-vis best-practices strategic thinking on the strategic topic selected.
  • Deliverable: appraisal and analysis together with concrete, detailed, practical recommendations.

2 Objectives

  • Achieve clarity and consistency on the alignment of the organisation’s purpose and strategy.
  • Enumerate and prioritise the stakeholders, internal and external, of the organisation’s strategy.
  • Construct transformation maps of the cross-cutting thematics, types of expertise to deploy.
  • Examine sub-set strands concerning distinct business lines, geographies, other variations.
  • Deliverable: clarity and consensus on this strategy’s desired outcomes and desired impact.

3 Plan

  • Compose a playbook to apply to all organisation strategy experts, spokespersons, practitioners.
  • Plan with this organisation team all priority action items: content, format, outreach.
  • Determine optimal sequencing and scheduling of the strategy’s action items.
  • Design implementation scenarios by all organisation representatives with CRM-type follow-up.
  • Deliverable: written and oral presentations to the organisation’s management and governance.

4 Implementation

  • Designate an in-house task force within the organisation to centralise and manage the strategy.
  • Execute a phased multi-stakeholder action plan involving relevant organisation representatives.
  • Capitalise on existing relationships to capture the full range of multi-stakeholder networks.
  • Produce multi-platform output, outreach; monitor roll-out based on CRM methodology.
  • Deliverable: multi-year strategic plan translated into focused, measurable action steps.

5 Impact

  • Establish clear, timed results and measurement criteria across the range of strategy initiatives.
  • Set specific guidelines to determine desired quantitative and qualitative impact of strategic goals.
  • Employ professional external evaluation methods (eg surveys) for objective impact assessment.
  • Utilise the impact evaluation to critique assessment, objectives, action plan and implementation.
  • Deliverable: analysis of performance, recommendations on course corrections for the future.

Such a complete strategic exercise can take place over several months or several years and, indeed, at the end of the final movement, impact, should in principle be renewed da capo. It is of course possible – and in most organisations will probably be deemed more practical – to take one step at a time and thus to begin with the precondition of precision, defining the strategy, and then a piece of the first movement, assessment, in a preliminary and limited fashion, after which the organisation and its decision-makers can determine the most effectual way forward.

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Disciplined Leadership

True leaders are made, not just born

by Nicholas Dungan

Leadership takes work. To be sure, some individuals come into this world with qualities and talents that suit them well for future leadership: charisma, articulateness, penetrating insight, an impressive presence. But just as is the case for an athlete or an artist, these natural gifts will be of little use if they are not exercised, trained and sustained. Discipline is required both to develop leadership initially and to maintain it thereafter.

 For that discipline to be made manifest and to prove effective, one must recognise the basic requirements and core components of true leadership. These are: self-possession, integrity and vision.

Self-possession is more than social poise

The term ‘self-possession’ often refers to not losing one’s cool in public or in social circumstances, but the self-possession required of a leader or future leader goes much further than that and incorporates the entire possession of oneself from a physical, intellectual and spiritual as well as a social perspective.

The leader’s physical self-possession results not only from self-restraint but from self-improvement. Azorín, in the opening words of El Político, says ‘The primary requirement of a statesman is physical strength. His body must be healthy and strong.’ – and in our time this is obviously a truth universally acknowledged as being equally applicable to female and male leaders alike. Regular challenging physical exercise and the practice of one or more competitive sports provide a constant stimulus and testing of the self; if performed in a strenuous enough fashion, they move the leader or future leader quite literally outside her or his comfort zone, enabling them to withstand discomfort and even pain. They expand the leader’s appreciation of her or his own capabilities and they contribute to the leader’s sense of accomplishment. In a similar but contrasting way, the self-discipline that is necessary to eat and drink sparingly, to maintain optimum weight as well as overall fitness, is conducive both to a sense of self-control and to an image of power and style.

 Intellectual self-possession involves thinking about how well we are thinking, about questioning one’s assumptions, recognising that one does not have all the answers. The consequence of intellectual self-possession is an unquenchable thirst for lifelong learning, an insatiable appetite for intelligence – not just information – which drives the leader or future leader not only towards contemporary best thinking but chiefly to the wisdom of the ages contained in lessons from history, philosophy and mind-expanding fiction. Adding a creative activity – music, writing, photography, art – diverts the leader’s attention away from the weighty issues of the day, as Winston Churchill describes so delightfully in his charming essay ‘Painting as a Pastime’, and offers an outlet that expands the leader’s scope of sensitivity and discernment.

 Spiritual self-possession is encouraged through the study of philosophy, the recognition of the lessons of the great religions and the leader’s own capacity for contemplation and meditation.

 Thus equipped with hard-earned self-possession, the leader or future leader is prepared to interact with others. She or he will be economical with words, naturally inclined to listen, comfortable with silence. She or he will project serenity, indifference to display, good humour – and a sense of humour – even, indeed especially, in adversity. Such outward and visible signs of an inward and individual equilibrium create an aura of respect and even mystery around the leader, which the leader will know how to use to her or his advantage when the time is ripe.

 Integrity is holistic

In everyday parlance, integrity signifies honesty, uprightness, ethical probity, fair dealing. The word derives from the Latin integer which etymologically means ‘un-touched’ and therefore untainted or pure. We can and should expect disciplined leaders to display integrity of this kind.

 But integer also means ‘whole’, ‘complete’, ‘entire’. In English, ‘integrity’ has somewhat lost this signification, yet in this broader, more encompassing construction, integrity applies acutely well to leaders and future leaders. Beyond good behaviour, they must demonstrate unimpeachable character, the willingness to accept responsibility, the ability to incur risks, the courage to face danger, the resolve to carry on regardless, the implacability to endure contumely, the steadfastness to steer through turbulence, tempests and turmoil. We have every right to hold our leaders to this standard of wholeness.

 Vision respects reality

Visionary leaders provide not just a policy but a purpose.They set higher goals than their own ambitions or the attainment of empty or easy gains. They curve their conception above the here and now. They designate a destination that arches beyond time and place. They offer to their followers both an aspiration to achieve and the inspiration to believe that their purpose is valid and that it is veritable. Far from promising what they cannot deliver, or chasing an impossible dream, they anchor their judgements in a sense of reality that respects the facts, calculates the contingencies and is infused with the awareness of the all-too-human hopes and fears of their followers.

 True leaders will be followed

Having developed and maintained these essential qualities of leadership – self-possession, integrity and vision -how can a leader be sure of winning followers? One cannot be a leader if there is noone there to be led. The answer lies in the effect the leader produces upon others: the essential effect of true leadership is the empowerment of others. From that empowerment will flow those followers’ conviction that the leader is worthy of their trust, their faith and their destiny.

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Authentic Influence

Thinking it through before acting upon it

 by Nicholas Dungan

Before we attempt to exercise influence, we ought to analyse what we mean by influence and what the meaning of that influence implies.

First and foremost, if we are decent people seeking to use our influence towards benificent ends, the influence we wish to exercise must be authentic: genuine, heartfelt, inspired by good will and intended to create good will. To be authentic, such influence must be both legitimate on the part of the person exercising influence and voluntary on the part of the person being influenced.

To be legitimate, the influence we wish to exercise must be ethical in its ends and in its means. This influence does not allow for anything dubious, unseemly or illegal, nor even slightly suspect, a bit dodgy, disingenuous: nothing underhanded, no cutting corners, not two-faced.

Authentic influence must also be voluntary on the part of the person being influenced. The art of persuasion is just that: the ability to inspire others to act in the way that we desire them to act, but based on the consent, the acquiescence, even the enthusiasm of those others.

For influence to be voluntary, there is one aspect that must be missing: fear. Influence exercised by creating anxiety, or making threats, or using intimidation, is negative influence. This putrid sort of influence will be resented by others and will last only until they can find a way to avoid it or reject it or overcome it.

The trianglulation of trust

Once we have determined that the influence we wish to cultivate must be authentic, legitimate and voluntary, then we can examine the components which make up authentic influence. These components are the truth, the sense of reality and awareness of ‘the other’. Together they constitute a triangle that inspires trust on the part of those whom we wish to influence.

The value of the truth should be obvious, but in our day and age sometimes seems to be under threat. Yet the apprehension that we live in a ‘post-truth’ era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ actually serves to make the truth more valuable, not less. All philosophies and all religions have always emphasised the centrality of the truth. The Buddha said: ‘Three things can not hide for long: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.’ Respecting the truth requires courage and character. And if we deviate from the truth, our influence will not last long, nor be effective, nor be benificent, because others will not trust us.

If the opposite of the truth is falsehood, the opposite of the sense of reality is denial, or delusion. The eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, when asked for his advice to future generations, gave this guidance on how to confront situations: ask yourself first ‘What are the facts?’. If we attempt to influence others based on illusion, or an idealised version of reality, or an artificial intellectual construct, then, even if we are deemed ethical and truthful by those others, we will still be written off as dreamers disconnected from the real world, and we will fail to exercise our influence.

The third side of the triangle of trust, along with the truth and the sense of reality, is awareness of ‘the other’. We can try to influence all we want, but without the other, there is nobody to receive our influence. Even more than this, the way we design and project and gauge our influence should be largely a function of who the other is, how we judge her or his receptivity, what we think her or his sensitivities are that will allow our influence to be appreciated, and received voluntarily. This applies just as much, indeed more, when ‘the other’ is actually several, or many, others.

Ancient wisdom, modern intelligence

We should not be surprised to learn that the art of authentic influence which we think we have unearthed for ourselves was actually articulated long ago. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, identified three modes of the art of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos.

  • Ethos applies to the speaker and the speaker’s ethics and reputation. Ethos requires the truth.
  • Logos means the message, the substance of the influence. Logos requires the sense of reality.
  • Pathos refers to the emotions through which our audience receives our influence. Pathos requires awareness of the other.
ethos logos pathos
the truth the sense of reality the other
influencer / leader message / substance emotions / soft skills
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