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Leaders & Strategy
 

 

“Strategy”, even where it is evidently applied to the corporate world, always tends to have a slightly militaristic ring to it. It suggests the idea of out-flanking opponents, daring dawn raids, or overcoming overwhelming odds through superior strategic intellect.

 

This is an interesting connection because there are business leaders who still approach corporate strategy as a version of the classic war movie image of puffed up-generals pushing soldier figurines around a mock battlefield. Such an image is striking because it suggests a distant and uncaring hand manipulating manpower and resources with little interest in the individuals involved.

 

It also speaks of a leader’s unfaltering belief in the solidity and ultimate success of their strategic manoeuvring – move pieces forward, gain advantage, repeat inflexibly until victory. This comes from being too distant from the action and overly-concerned with “the big picture” at the expense of a real understanding of what is happening on the ground.

 

Neither is an approach to strategy that is likely to inspire much long-term success in any organisation. Leaders pitched too far away from those they lead are unlikely to generate much trust in their leadership nor are they likely to foster much personal connection with individuals and teams who they have kept at a distinct arms-length. In a similar vein, leaders who have approached strategic thinking from only one broad perspective – and a rigid, inflexible one at that – will most likely struggle when a market shifts even slightly from the status quo.

 

You can also see this more military-inspired approach in the context of different leadership styles, where a more martial approach to leading is often identified as “Commanding Leadership”. This is supposed to be appropriately applied in situations where a leader needs a very specific set of actions to take place without debate and discussion. Think, for example, of a platoon under heavy fire on the battlefield where democratic chats about the best course of action are not going to help rapidly improve matters. Within the comparatively peaceful domain of the corporate world, this might be best applied in a crisis or where there is an urgent business need. Critical and high pressure situations may well require a strong, solitary voice to straightforwardly delineate what needs to happen, with those commands enforced through close supervision and threats related to failure.

 

Militaristic approaches to leadership might particularly appeal to leaders early in their careers, where their authority appears to only be conveyed through a new job title, rather than their own capabilities. At such moments, a person might choose to exert their leadership through the most direct blunt instrument approach available to them – essentially “do it this way, or else…”. While in the immediate instance this might feel like good sense and appear to be producing the desired outcome - people doing what you want - it is questionable whether such a leadership strategy will work even in the short-term. More likely, employees will quickly resist these constant commands or simply leave the company, while the leader is likely to burn out with the exhaustion of constantly delivering threatening demands over the shoulders of their reports.

 

Combine a Command Room approach to strategy with a battlefield style of leadership, and you arguably have an organisational leader who is going to have a significant but entirely negative impact on the people they lead. Devising strategy from afar and leading with an iron fist suggests an individual with a very poor understanding of what it takes to be an effective modern leader. They are likely to confuse fear with respect, and over-confidence with forthright decision-making. They are also likely to scare potential employees away by reputation and hamper corporate strategy by being too rigid in their approach.

 

In short, such leaders need to realise that while working towards their vision for a company might feel like a battle, they need to ditch the “office general” approach if they want to successfully reach it.

 

Ahmad Badr is Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG).

 

Reference: CEO Magazine