A Happy & Strategic 2010


Posted on January 1, 2010 by Blake Leath

"If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect."

                                                                    Benjamin Franklin


Despite the slew of obvious and ‘loud challenges’ facing 2010 organizations, there remains an often overlooked challenge, a more fundamental flaw in many organizations’ fabric, and something so seemingly pedestrian that it attracts much less attention in today’s media-marketplace. The problem is a thread so pervasive that its absence lays waste to any organization’s best intentions to resolve any other issues.

Is the problem Debt? Declining Sales? Cash Flow? Leadership? Marketplace Positioning? Uncertainty? Although each of these orbit near the same sun, they are not remotely as foundational as the problem that binds them together. The problem circling the drain in too many organizations today is strategy, and specifically, the strategist.

Why does the strategist matter so much? Indulge me for a moment and visualize a home or an office building. As a resident or an employee in either of these structures, I can change the paint color. I can lay new carpet. I can rearrange the furniture and hang various art on the walls. I can swap out appliances, order specific lights, or replace brass bathroom fixtures with chrome. But without remodeling altogether, I cannot readily move the bathroom. I cannot readily create additional levels above. I cannot readily tack-on a basement. Why? Because the bones of the house were pre-determined long before the sheetrock went up. Long before the electricity was run. Long before the framing went up and the plumbing was plumbed. Simply put–the structure and much of its functionality, efficiency, and potential were determined long before the foundation itself was poured. Indeed, the form and function and essence of the structure were determined way back at the origin: in the envisioning and designing stages with the architect. 

This is the realm of the strategist, and while disparate issues like cash management and leadership and legal compliance are equally vital and obligatory chromosomes in the DNA of any organization, they are not the same as strategy itself, and they alone are not adequate to create stable organizations or employers of choice or preferred investments for stockholders. 

I value leaders immensely; they occupy the second-highest tier on a pedestal within my mind. But the uppermost tier is occupied by the strategist, because she is the progenitor of everything that follows. She is the one who first puts pencil to paper and sketches out what will ultimately become a blueprint, and the blueprint defines the entire space–its surroundings, its interior, and its inherency. I respect the strategist above all others, because it is the strategist who pioneers and lays claim and authors the music that leaders orchestrate. If the leader is the conductor of musicians, the strategist is the composer.

As we enter 2010, we should pay more attention to these often overlooked masterminds who set entire organizational-universes in motion. From Thomas Jefferson who often worked alone in his tiny room penning the Declaration of Independence to Roman architects who built an array of roads and aquifers that revolutionized civilization–those who put lines to paper frame the system and set the table for much of what follows. Centuries and millennia later, we find ourselves as tiny planets orbiting around the words of Jefferson through contemporary legislation. Much of western civilization was shaped in the dye that was cast over 2,000 years ago by Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians before them. The importance of their work, of similar work across the East and of all the contributions made since the dawn of man by those quiet, behind-the-scenes strategists must be illuminated. It must be acknowledged, studied, and dissected. We must–as students and scientists with inquiring minds–look way back… back to specific beginnings when architects, be they writers or composers or sculptors or painters or potters or doodlers like Leonardo da Vinci put pen to paper and crafted the rules by which we often play. We must make their implicit work explicit. We must bring it to the light of day that we may, in our own humble and unique ways, master it ourselves. Indeed, strategy is organic and evolves over time–where we began cannot be where we go, yet an understanding of an organization’s strategic origins certainly informs those strategists responsible for shaping and reshaping it on a continual basis.

As has occurred to others, perhaps it occurs to you now, "But what if I’m not the strategist? The walls were here before I arrived. I’m just a leader in an organization that was built long ago – but I do wish to become a more strategic leader." One needn’t be the creator to be strategic; one needn’t be the original architect to remodel, refine, and improve. Life is dynamic, not static, and though we might not have been the original architect, we are – each and every day – shaping everything we touch. 

And perhaps more importantly, you are indeed the strategist of your own life. Whether you wish to remodel your career, your fitness, your relationships, your finances, or your future, 2010 is a new year–a blank slate–and I hope and pray it will be your very best year yet.