Why is the role of strategist fading away at a time when it is the most needed?
What is a strategist? The origin of the word strategy is in Greek – the Greek words stratos (army) and agein (lead). “Strategy“ is then derived from the word strategos (a military general). The main meaning of strategy is long-term planning to help achieve an objective. The strategy describes how the objective will be achieved. The person responsible for crafting such a plan is called strategist.
Like a military general, a strategist works with tacticians to carry out strategic plans. In non-military organizations, this work is most efficiently carried out through collaboration with tacticians such as CEOs, COOs, specialists, and project managers, who use a carefully planned strategy to achieve a specific end.
Sun Tzu’s maxim teaches that strategy and tactics work in concert to accomplish objectives. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat. -Sun Tzu
In an ad agency, there is a role for creative integrity. The person filling that role ensures that at each step of a campaign (tactics) the integrity of the strategy is maintained. Otherwise, the final deliverable is unrecognizable because each tactician that touches it re-interprets the deliverable based on their understanding, creative expression, or skill.
In a trial, the case frame, the story, and the sequence of facts is strategic. Tacticians select a jury, deliver the opening statement, examine witnesses, prepare and present evidence and demonstratives, and make the closing argument.
But the strategist’s role is not one-and-done at the beginning of a project, campaign, or trial. The strategist’s role is dynamic. It is constantly changing. Consider a kayaker. As a tactician, a kayaker will have a map of a river as well as notes from other kayakers who have been on the river before. As a strategist, a kayaker will recognize that the water is dynamically changing and the objective is to enjoy the run and reach the take-out point alive. This might mean kayaking areas that have never been kayaked before. It also might mean carrying the kayak around sections of the river that have always been deemed safe in the past.
The objective for a trial lawyer as a tactician, for example, may be to win a trial for a sum certain or more. The objective for the strategist may be to resolve the conflict to minimize the collateral costs of trial (like publicity, inviting additional claimants, and so forth).
For the strategist, a trial may be a necessary tactic to bring the parties or the process to the point where negotiation is possible. And once negotiation is possible it becomes the new tactic to achieve the overall objective of resolving the conflict.
I am not suggesting that the strategist and tactician roles cannot be played by the same person. I am suggesting that in organizations and teams the differentiation of the roles has value. I am suggesting that where strategists and tacticians dynamically collaborate, objectives are achieved more effectively.
Post-pandemic, many companies are faced with the challenge of ending product or service lines. When they think about which products and services to keep the natural source of information is the income sheet. Did the product or service make money? Transactional. Many times the income sheet gives a clear answer about which products and services to keep and which to get rid of. A clearly wrong answer.
A restorative leader will consult the income statement but before making a decision will ask the stakeholders. A distinguishing characteristic of restorative leadership is that the definition of stakeholder is necessarily fuzzy. Many businesses conduct customer surveys but the definition of stakeholder may extend out much further than the customer. It may include, for example, the end-user, the third-party beneficiary, the customer’s spouse and family, the community the product or service will serve, and on and on.
A restorative leader will listen to the stakeholders empathetically rather than try to convince the stakeholder that they are wrong about something they say. When a restorative leader feels offended or disgusted by a stakeholder, they seek to dig deeper to better understand the stakeholder’s position. This requires creating a safe place for the stakeholder to share. It requires leaders to receive what is shared as a gift. It is a gift — even if the leader didn’t want it — it is a valuable gift.
What restorative leaders often find is that the products or services are fine but the way they are delivered or installed or services needs to be changed. They often find that a small change to a product or service makes it more profitable. They often find that packaging existing products together makes them more profitable. They often find that stakeholders would be more loyal or would recommend products and services more if they simply received a little gratitude. They often find that stakeholders are willing to be partners and allies when they feel heard.
Trying to decide which products to keep? Don’t just ask your customers. Restoratively ask your stakeholders.
Maybe I had it perfectly memorized but I got stuck. Maybe I prepared for hours but I got stuck. Maybe I never saw this question coming and I got stuck. About the only way to never get stuck is to never leave home and if you never leave home then, you are stuck. So, what can I do when I get stuck?
Spontaneity is the spark that ignites creativity. Spontaneous action comes from the limbic system. The limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that deal with emotions and memory. A lot of spontaneous action comes from the limbic system. So, action matters. One thing you can do when you get stuck is move. To the degree possible, move in the context you are stuck in. Stuck telling a story? Put the story in action. Stuck because you are speaking to a large crowd from the front of the room? Move to the back of the room.
What can you do when you get stuck? Get spontaneous.
A regretitation is an apology concretized into a physical action or item. It is a concretized restorative action.
If someone harms another by running over their mailbox, a regretitation may be showing up the next day to restore their mailbox. A regretitation may be showing up with a new mailbox altogether. Or both.
Regretitation is a restorative leadership practice.
Treat everybody like it’s their birthday. -Kid President
The practice of celebrating humanity is first personal. It begins with acknowledgment. It begins with not looking away.
A couple to three times in my life I have been in a new group of people and the person that brought me introduced almost everyone else but me. I certainly didn’t feel celebrated. Had they forgotten my name, it would have been better if they would have said, “And let me introduce you to this fellow who will have to tell you his name.” The simple acknowledgment is the first step. How can you ever celebrate someone’s humanity if you have never seen them or heard them? You cannot. The practice of celebrating humanity is personal.
Finding ways to celebrate humanity — best you can — is restorative.
We easily celebrate the humanity of the special guest, the monied, and the celebrity. Restorative celebration is finding something to celebrate in the person perceived to be the least of these. It often requires being brave. Acknowledging people that up until now I have not seen, heard, or acknowledged requires being brave. If they are people who I find disrespectful or disgusting, acknowledging them requires being brave.
And this personal practice of celebrating, like all celebrations, grows publicly. Celebrated communities are made up of celebrated people.