Leadership and strategy are not the same

Organisations need to be careful not to confuse the two.

While it is true that both good strategy and leadership can be personified in one individual, they are fundamentally two separate things. Leadership is about having a vision and inspiring and motivating people to move in a certain direction.  Field Marshall Montgomery said “the leader must have infectious optimism and the determination to persevere in the face of difficulties, he must also radiate confidence, even when he himself is not too certain of the outcome. The final test of a leader is the feeling you have when you leave his presence after a conference. Have you got a feeling of uplift and confidence”? Throughout history there are many examples of charismatic leaders who had success but ultimately led their people to disaster. Drucker stated it well when he said “The three most charismatic leaders in the century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any trio in history: Hitler, Stalin and Mao. What matters is not the leader’s charisma. What matters is the leader’s mission.”

So, what makes the difference? Strategy. Strategy is about fundamental analysis, having a clear view of the organisation’s core competence, identifying and predicting how the future landscape could be disrupted and having a clear definition of the challenges and opportunities facing the organisation. It is about deciding which ones are worth pursuing (and not) and which are likely to be achieved. It is about understanding the obstacles that need to be overcome in pursuit of that objective. Then it is about putting in place a clear set of actions and ‘soft and hard’ inputs that build on what has gone before. It is about robustly challenging and testing the plan, considering risk as well as the relative strength and weaknesses of the competition.  It’s also about putting in place the control systems, focusing on leading measures, as well as developing the intelligence gathering apparatus that identifies the new challenges facing the business. Finally, it’s about renewal and learning from the previous phases.  As Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn, although I don’t always like to be taught”.