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Cynthia Montgomery on Becoming a Better Strategist

This month’s Gifted Leaders e-Newsletter features an interview with Cynthia Montgomery in strategy+business. Montgomery, a Harvard Business School professor, observes that leaders become better strategists by regularly engaging in conversations about the purpose of a company. When you look at strategy as a frame of mind to be cultivated, rather than as a plan to be executed, you are far more likely to succeed over the long run.

Highlights from the Article

A business strategist is someone who engages in an ongoing conversation about the purpose of a company. The company rises or falls on the quality of that conversation and the way it is used to make decisions about the day to day work of the enterprise.

A leader who is a strategist has clarity not only about what’s being done, but why. He or she understands that the quality of execution begins there. No matter how successful an operator or executor you are, no matter how good your product innovation or manufacturing processes are, if your company doesn’t have a meaningful distinction, you won’t be effective; and if you can’t move it forward, your company will stagnate.

The fundamental question that any company’s leader must ultimately answer is: What will this firm be, and why will it matter? This is not a soft, philosophical question. It is a hard-nosed, economic one. Leaders must be able to clearly articulate an answer to this question and others like, why would the world need this business and what would be different if it didn’t exist?

A leader can’t consider these questions just once and be done with it. Those questions need compelling answers every day of a firm’s existence, answers that are relevant as the business evolves, and as markets and customers evolve. To enable that kind of continuous evolution, strategy should never be thought of as a problem that’s been solved and settled. There are occasional dramatic changes, but mostly it’s an evolutionary process, with the positional leader(s) of the organization at the center.

Strategy work means building a system of advantage – a business model tailored to the organization’s purpose, where the pieces work in sync, and where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Done well, it turns a concept into an animating idea: A clear view of what your company will bring to the world, why it will matter, and how you will do it. A lot of those hows will be determined by others throughout the organization, but that can’t happen unless there’s clarity at the core.

Montgomery’s advice to senior leaders: “If someone asks you what you do for a living, just look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m an architect of organizational purpose.’” A leader must be an architect – or, better yet, a steward – of organizational purpose.

Read the article here.

The Gifted Perspective

One of the key roles that we’ve identified for positional leaders today is to be a steward of the “why” of the organization – the vision, mission, values, and strategy. Montgomery’s interview underscores this critical responsibility of leading strategy on a day-to-day basis. We agree with her assertion that leaders must be architects of organizational purpose.

2015 has been a year for Gifted Leaders to do some strategy work around our fundamental reason for existence. We want to equip leaders to create workplaces that engage people, that utilize each person’s unique gifts, and that satisfy their need for meaning and community. This, we believe, will require a paradigm shift from the paternalistic leadership model so prevalent in today’s organizations. Our vision is to put collective leadership into practice.

Let us help you develop the mindset and skill set required for 21st century leadership!

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