CEO Coaching: The Painful Truths About Real Strategy

To understand why your desired customer will buy from you versus your competition and what you must do to satisfy their needs is perhaps the most important thing you can know. But many CEOs cannot clearly articulate this. And many know it but don’t choose to address it. Why?

Building a winning strategy is hard. (Hell, even building a losing strategy can be hard!) It requires a mind and temperament that searches for the right approach while mired in ambiguity and uncertainty. It requires process, creativity, and courage.

Building a winning strategy isn’t a class project. It doesn’t require, nor will it work with, a large group of people. Like it or not, it’s a top-down exercise, not democratic. That doesn’t mean you can’t run an inclusive organization, but only those in authority can make the decisions that can negatively impact part of the team. It isn’t fair. Some departments and programs will win, and some may be reduced or eliminated. If that isn’t the case, you screwed up. Strategy means saying no to everything that doesn’t support your strategy. 

It isn’t fast. Start with a real assessment of current reality. Understand your competitors, your customers (the “right” ones), your capabilities, and your assets. Look for trends and opportunities that cannot be knowable but must be divined from imperfect information. 

So, it’s hard, it’s not fair, it takes time, and it requires guesswork. If it’s easy, democratic, quick, and certain, I guarantee you have a bad strategy. If it doesn’t answer what specific markets you  serve and why you’ll win, it isn’t a good strategy. If it’s just a budget and annual plan, that’s not strategy. Planning is required, but insufficient. If it doesn’t address what major changes are required, it isn’t a good strategy. Given all of that, why would you even entertain trying to answer the question, “What is our strategy?”

The easy route is to keep doing what you’re doing; try to please everyone; and create an all-inclusive statement about being great in several areas and pleasing multiple customer groups while, of course, claiming that “your people make the difference.” You won’t optimize your growth and profit, and you’ll decrease the lifespan of your company—but at least you’ll have friends.

Good strategy brings better financial results and is best for your stakeholders over the long run.

Do you want to be loved or run a great business? Do you want to avoid hard decisions or give yourself a better chance of contributing greatly to your stakeholders and society? (Assuming you aren’t selling cigarettes.) Do you want to be a real leader or just a presider?

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