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What has a greater impact on organizational growth? Strategy or leadership?

November 30, 2015

“Strategy will not succeed in a void, and leadership often makes the difference between merely reaching for great opportunities and actually realizing their potential.”  - McKinsey Report, Tsun-yan Hsieh and Sara Yik.

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a senior leader in a successful manufacturing organization. He proudly spoke about the company’s products and employees and beamed as he walked me through the facility, pointing out visual systems, key performance indicators, and lean improvements they have made over the years. He talked of mentoring his next level leaders to improve their confidence and decision making abilities; so much so that his job was a bit ‘boring’ now.

Contrast this with another senior leader in a different organization, different industry, but equally successful. While he also spoke proudly about his organization, customers and employees, he had difficulty identifying what contributed to the organization’s success to date. While the Board and select senior leaders participated in a strategic planning exercise each year, the plan was not shared openly with others in the organization.

Of the two organizations, which is poised for more growth? I would bet my next pay cheque on the first organization over the second --- and I’ll tell you why.

In the absence of good leadership, a strategy document becomes an oversized paper weight. Poor leaders don’t understand the value of a strategy. They create one-day strategy workshops so they can say they’ve gone through the planning process. The result is a plan that sits in a binder on the shelf until the next year. The plan quality is generally poor and there is no focus on execution.

In the absence of good strategy, a good leader can build solid relationships with staff. Good leaders recognize that their ability to achieve results rests with the team they are entrusted to lead. They communicate, and more importantly, listen. They set operational goals, measure progress, and hold people accountable to create a foundation of execution. They ask for strategic direction so they can ensure they are working on the right things.

When a good leader is provided a solid strategy, he or she leverages the relationships and the foundation of execution they’ve already established within their team to deliver results. Give that same strategy to a poor leader and he or she will not understand why it exists, how to make it real, or even where to start.

So, how do we build leaders and leadership teams that are ready to get on board with strategy? We select them carefully and then we invest in them – we give them the tools, support, education, and learning opportunities to grow. At inVision we assess senior leadership teams using our Activation Edge products, provide team exercises and, at times, one-on-one coaching, to help leaders develop their potential.

So what has a greater impact on organizational growth? While developing a solid strategic plan is necessary and important, a plan without leadership nets you nothing. I bet on leadership every time.


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