Pen and paper. Car and driver. Strategy and tactics. What do all these have in common?
One without the other is rendered almost useless. Having a great strategy without executing it is just a dream. Or completing tasks without a plan of what you’re trying to achieve is just busy work.
To understand the topic, let’s start with a definition of strategy vs tactics.
What is the difference between strategy and tactics?
The difference between strategy and tactics is that strategy is the long-term guiding plan of what is to be achieved, whereas tactics are the smaller intentional actions linked to the strategy, completed in the short term to move closer to achieving the goal.
As you can see from this definition, a strategy cannot come to fruition without the proper tactical execution. Conversely, completing tactics without pursuing an end goal won’t likely add up to the results needed to be successful. That’s why people leaders need to be good at both.
However, there is a genuine challenge as you move up in your career. The higher up you go in an organization, the greater the importance becomes on developing strategies.
When you’re an individual contributor, you’re not formulating strategy. You spend your days executing tactics directed by your leader. But as a leader, you become the one in charge of developing strategies and directing employees to make them a reality. Unfortunately, this leads to many new supervisors and managers feeling out of their depths when asked to formulate strategies and forward planning for their team, department, or organization.
How do you become more strategic and less tactical?
It is easy to fall back on what you know and are comfortable with, which is delivering tactics. But a leadership role requires a shift in focus to be more strategic and lead the tactics, not do them.
It’s up to leaders to guide the direction of their teams, solve problems, and formulate plans. As one article from the Harvard Business Review described it, “Strategic people create connections between ideas, plans, and people others fail to see.”
How To Be More Strategic
- Develop a big picture perspective
- Challenge your assumptions
- Make time for strategic thinking
- Build your knowledge
Develop a big-picture perspective
To be more strategic requires a holistic understanding of the organization, the interconnectivity, the resources, suppliers, and stakeholders to know which leavers that can be pulled to facilitate your strategy.
In addition to an internal understanding, you must also focus on the external marketplace to be great at formulating winning strategies. Look at industry trends, new entrants, acquisitions, customer preferences and needs, technology, the economy, regulations, and any significant changes that may impact your organization.
Challenge your assumptions
Strategic thinking and strong strategy development require uncovering new opportunities and finding solutions to problems by challenging the status quo and assumptions you may hold. One way to develop alternative ideas is to seek the perspective of others. Accessing alternative viewpoints and diversity of thought will enable you to see new solutions to old problems.
Make time for strategic thinking
You must be intentional in making time for strategic thinking, as finding time for strategic thinking is a real problem many leaders face. This challenge was quantified in one survey where 97% of leaders said they lacked time for strategy development and strategic thinking because they were too occupied with putting out fires and the daily demands of leadership.
To free up your time, you must delegate work to your team to complete the work only you can do, such as developing strategies. If you’re unsure what to delegate or how to do it, check out this guide for delegators.
Build your knowledge
As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and with increased knowledge, you're better equipped to apply critical thinking to uncover patterns and correlate data to develop new strategies. In addition, when you have a deeper understanding of business, trends, and the competitive landscape you find yourself in, you are more likely to see opportunities others may have missed.
Conclusion: It's not strategy vs tactics; it's strategy and tactics
When it comes to strategy and tactics, it is not an either-or situation; you need to be good at both. Yet, many leaders receive feedback on the performance review that they "need to be more strategic." If you find yourself in this situation, rest assured that you can build your strategic leadership capabilities.
Attending a business acumen program, such as Niagara Institute’s Mini-MBA to learn the essentials of business, or working with a leadership coach who has held an executive role, are two ways in which you can build your big-picture perspective. In doing so, you will not only be great at getting things done but also be a visionary who develops solid strategies.