Support without strategy… not good

Today, we look at another of the 17 elements of my series I call Building Skills for Great Leaders.  Today’s element is:

Support without Strategy leads to ambiguity and lack of focus”

When I was in graduate school, I was housed in a small, messy laboratory with 4-5 other students.  Some of us had a specific plan (as dictated by our spouses) to obtain an M.A. degree, then get a job.  However, there were a couple other guys that had been working on their PhD degrees for nearly 10 years.  They loved being students and claimed their spouses were 100% on-board with their approach to remain professional students.  In talking with at least one of these PhD-candidate students, he said his approach was to continue his research, then at some point in the future (perhaps, when he had cured cancer), he would write-up his work and finalize his PhD degree.  He completely lacked focus on the task of finishing his degree and, as a result, his research meandered from one topic to another without hope of attaining that ultimate prize… his degree.  In short, he had support from his family to continue his pursuit (believe it or not!), but his failure to develop a strategy led to complete research ambiguity and lack of focus on the finish line.  Other students with a clear strategy were able to complete their degrees in half that time.

We can have complete support in what we do, yet never accomplish anything.  As leaders, unless we can articulate a clear final destination and the pathway to arrive there, we can work aimlessly until we lose focus and, more than likely, hope.  Someone once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”  So, one of our key jobs as leaders is to constantly re-enforce our destination and the path we are taking to arrive there.  This is not to say that we should micro-manage our teams.  In fact, when we communicate the final destination and the key milestones along the way well, we can manage less.  When our team members know where we are going, we can just get out of their way and let them drive us there.

One more illustration… My son-in-law is a college basketball coach.  His players are highly experienced players when they arrive in his program.  However, he must teach them the system his teams use for offense and defense.  He must drill into them the approaches they will use, how to manage the clock, and tendencies of their opponents.  He develops a “game plan” for each game that is intended to guide their approach for that game (for you basketball junkies out there, this means whether they will use a man-to-man defense or match-up 1-2-2; whether they will press after made free throws; whether they will work the ball inside or focus on their outside game; etc., etc.).  However, once the game begins, he can only stand on the sidelines and coach.  He cannot play defense, he cannot shoot the ball… in short, he can encourage, alter strategy from the sidelines, manage the game details, but the outcome of the game relies solely on the performance of his players.  They must execute.  His job is to prepare the team.

In many ways, we do the same thing with our work teams.  We establish a strategy, prepare the members, then encourage them as they execute.  We can provide infinite support, but without a strategy to guide them, we should not be surprised when results are not what we had envisioned.

Thanks for making life better for someone else today!  Have an awesome one!

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