Confusing Leadership With Mathematics

Leaders are Paid to Make Hard Decisions

Henry Kissinger said, “To plan policy on the assumption of the equal possibility of all contingencies is to confuse statesmanship with mathematics.”

Let’s change three words to make this a brilliant statement regarding business strategy. “To craft strategy on the assumption of the equal possibility of all contingencies is to confuse leadership with mathematics.”

Opting not to do the hard work to choose a business strategy (and if you cannot tell me exactly what yours is, you’ve elected not to choose) is deciding that the possibility of being wrong has more dire circumstances than not making a decision. This implies a misunderstanding not only of mathematics but also of leadership. Leaders are paid to deal with ambiguity and make decisions with far less than perfect knowledge.

From my experience, there are five primary reasons that CEOs (who must be the driver in crafting strategy) avoid creating a clearly articulated strategy:

1.    They don’t know what it is (they literally cannot define “strategy”) or what one looks like.
2.    They don’t have a process by which to do it.
3.    They spend almost their entire career “managing” strategy (whether assumed or clearly articulated) and aren’t comfortable developing it.
4.    They mistakenly buy in to the “one big brain” theory (think Steve Jobs) and believe that they should be smart enough to come up with it on their own.
5.    It’s hard work (skill versus will).

At its base level, the process of thinking strategically (which is much different from planning!) involves three steps: painting a picture of the future environment, clearly identifying current reality and then connecting the dots. Sounds simple, but it’s not easy. It requires hard work, making decisions without perfect knowledge, a collaborative mindset and the skill to execute that strategy once identified.

Leadership requires minimizing risk and planning, but it also entails confidence and making tough decisions. Presiding is not the same as leading.

Leadership cannot be disassembled into mathematics. If it could, there’d already be an app for that.