In her HBR article “Putting Leadership Back into Strategy”, Cynthia Montgomery argues that it is high time to bring leadership back into strategy. I couldn’t agree more! Recently I came across this article again and feel strongly about it, especially in today’s ever changing world, where command and control mode may not be the best solution, and often times actually hinders innovation and the long-term adaptability of an organization.
Indeed in the past 3 decades strategy has become an analytical problem to be solved, a left-brain exercise. This way of thinking about strategy has generated substantial benefits. But the benefits have not come without costs. Most notably, strategy has been narrowed to a competitive game plan, divorcing it from a firm’s larger sense of PURPOSE.
What I resonate most about leadership and strategy, is that PURPOSE should be at the heart of strategy. Cynthia argues that articulating and tending to a purpose-driven strategy is no easy task. It is a human endeavor in the deepest sense of the term. Keeping all the parts of a company in proper balance while moving the enterprise forward is extraordinarily difficult. However, do we have another choice?
In today’s world, technology is developing at an exponential rate. Sitting in an established big organization, I have experienced the digital technology enabling our potential competitors rising from left to right. The digital technologies have enabled small agile firms to focus on their niche areas, and they can grow so strong to eat up market shares from the giants at an extraordinary rate. Why? Because they are PURPOSE driven, the really successful start-ups align their purpose with their strategy and are enabled by the fast developing technologies. In the energy arena, look at the solar PV industry, energy storage, e-mobility just to name a few. Since I grew up in China, every time I go back I feel I’ve entered a big amusement park from my countryside house in Europe. Haha… I’m sure every Chinese reader will know what do I mean by feeling like ”Liu Laolao”. This is not to mention innovative approaches like Uber and airbnb…
The leaders in big corporates instinctively know that the core advantage that we may have for the future, is a future that we will co-create with our customers. And in this VUCA world, our customers are also experiencing the digital hit, and they may not know what they really want. This makes the situation even more exciting and challenging. Because as I see it, the ability to really embrace a service culture, a mindset that will enable us to co-create that future with our customers is the key to our success.
So how do we enable that success?
Being part of a wider strategy team in my organization, I’ve witnessed first-hand how putting emphasis on the analytical part of strategy one may miss the huge potential of stimulating the purpose that bounds us together. Facing such challenges, there are more enlightened leaders who take this issue at heart and try to bring a purpose driven approach to strategy. I have contributed to part of that as this speaks to my truth. The value that a human centric approach to strategy can bring to an organization is that it can spread the word of purpose more efficiently than almost anyone else in the organization. Since the vast majority of organizations are still in the hierarchy structure, strategy is at the heart of the governance and operations. When we have a purpose-driven strategy approach, I’m sure the various parts of the organization will follow suit as I believe we are all connected as human beings in an energy level. Such a strategy approach will connect hearts, not just processes. I feel immensely encouraged to be part of a movement to put PURPOSE back to strategy, back to the wider organization. I feel encouraged to have contributed to various efforts to bring the growth mindset, adaptive leadership back to strategy and the business operations. I guess, as I feel like it, I’ll share more details in the next articles.