The Role of Leadership in the Success of Strategy

The Role of Leadership in the Success of Strategy

Strategy is a response by the organization so as to realise the goals, relative to the competitive and wider socio-economic landscape. It serves to outline the course or plan of action (or policies, if you prefer) over the identified time period, and channels resources to those initiatives identified. Whether this is done via a Management-by-Objective approach or one more focused on Continuous Improvement, it hinges on the performance of people to be realised.

 

In today’s knowledge era, companies are increasingly placing emphasis on people in the realisation of goals. Be it through diversity, talent management, internal corporate social responsibility, innovative compensation packages and other forms of inclusion and ownership, companies are empowering individuals with resources and support to pursue strategies and realise objectives.

 

As a direct consequence, we are seeing more and more the consideration of leadership competencies within the organisation – those competencies that can enable persons to work willingly towards the realisation of goals and objectives. Distinct though not disconnected with the management roles within and organisation, leadership as a strategy is proving effective and resilient for organisations to realise their goals efficiently and effectively.

 

Based on the foundation of trust, respect and confidence, the perspectives of the leader(s) within and throughout the organisation can have a ripple effect on the organisation, both in terms of the acceptance and commitment by all – towards the success of the initiatives identified. What then is the role the leader can play in the strategy ‘process’ within and throughout the organisation?

 

Reinforcing Commitment

Strategic Planning may appear to persons within organisations as a mysterious and demanding exercise exclusive to the top tiers of management, and one that does not change the way things are done, nor address the problems faced. The leader here can reinforce the usefulness and commitment by staff to the planning initiative, and encourage their active participation where applicable.

 

The commitment of the leaders also set the tone for the rest of the organisation to follow. Dedication to the process – the insistence on obtaining the requisite information, discussing the major issues and challenges, agreeing on positions and preferences – all serve to reinforce the support and conviction towards the strategic planning process.

 

Inclusion in Planning

A leader, through open and respectful dialogue, can include his/her subordinates in the determination of goals and objectives – be it the resolution of problems or the realisation of opportunities. This inclusion not only incorporates persons in the process, allowing for greater levels of ownership and commitment, but can also identify critical issues and goldmines of opportunities that can serve the organisation well in its development agenda.

 

By extension, the leader has a critical role to play in the selection (or configuring, if you prefer) of strategy to achieve results. Consideration of resource availability and demands would mean that people are either supported in their efforts; overworked within an ailing structure; or callously disregarded as emphasis is focused elsewhere.

 

Communication and Roll-Out

The leader (who by definition has a competence in communication and interpersonal interaction) can effectively communicate the strategic intent throughout the organisation, to glean the buy-in and commitment by others within the organisation. Inherent in this would be the recognition of interdependence by all stakeholders in the realisation of the objectives.

 

As an example, one company locally placed roughly half of their efforts on themed communication of the plan throughout the organisation – to sterling performance. The news releases, posters, theme songs, dialogue and roll-out plan (complete with quick wins and staff support) all meshed to yield exemplary results in a situation where the expectations were abysmal at best.

 

Because the time lapse between the formulation of strategies and their realisation may be significant (typically up to three (3) or five (5) years), interests and commitment to the goals may vary by persons within the organisation. People may be caught up in the process and forget the outcome, or may become disenfranchised with the delay in realising the results.

 

A leader can serve to not only drive the implementation of initiatives by individuals and teams, but also help to maintain the focus and levels of effort, through any of the mechanisms of encouragement, focus, empowerment and support.

 

Reinforcing Accountability and Ownership

The leader can, in his/her interaction with individuals, reinforce the accountability of persons of various levels, and perpetuate the degree of ownership perceived. Of course, a major prerequisite of this is the assumption that the persons within the organisation have the capacity, supporting systems and procedures, resource availability and asset base to perform the task at hand.

 

In a corporate environment where ‘passing the buck’ may be the default practice, it helps the leader to lead, and the organisation to realise the goals, if every base of support is available. When this is the case, the individuals’ effectiveness plays that pivotal role in the degree of success of the initiatives.

 

Celebrating Success / Sharing Failure

The leader, being part of a team, cannot be removed from the realisation (or not) of results pursued by the team, without jeopardising his/her role on the team. A deflection of responsibility, ownership or commitment can undermine the respect, confidence or commitment maintained by the team-members in their leader. Some contemporary approaches to leadership recognise leading ‘from the front’ or through ‘action-centred’ perspectives.

 

One individual celebrated attainment of every milestone with an offsite feast – designed, developed and devoured by team members. Of course, it may not be practical to encourage a GANTT Chart for every recipe, but it does highlight the innovative and meaningful ways the leader can link performance and effort to the realisation of strategy.

 

All organisations are associations of people, and this is reflected in any definition of the entity. In the approaches to strategy, we are seeing greater emphasis placed on the empowering persons and monitoring performance towards the goals identified. Alternatively, within a continuous improvement approach, more emphasis is toward innovation and specialisation of individuals to effect change.

 

Notwithstanding this dichotomy, a leadership strategy can prove as safe as it can be effective, since it impacts the very foundation of the organisation – its people. The success of the strategy would be a function of the timeliness and effectiveness of people pursuing same, and certainly the leader has a role to play in this equation.

 

As John Quincy Adams identified, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader.”

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