+1 347 223 5128

+44 20 3744 5675

Our professional consultants are ready to guide you


Are You Strategic?

Back to blog


Being a senior executive requires you to lead, manage, and monitor many different elements of the business at the same time on a continual basis. Sometimes it can feel like an intellectual version of the arcade game Whac-A-Mole, where issues keep popping up and you’re required to see and handle them instantaneously. Where you spend your time, talent, and attention can be influenced by fire drills, meetings, and other factors that may not necessarily align with your priorities. Darn those moles!

A study of 60,000 leaders by the Management Research Group found that having a strategic approach to the business is ten times more important to the perception of a leader’s effectiveness than any other behavior. This strategic approach can be challenging to master as you move up in the organization to broader levels of responsibility. While it’s comfortable to continue to flex your functional (e.g., marketing, finance, etc.) or technical (engineering, R&D, etc.) expertise, this may not always be in the company’s or your team’s best interest.

Based on 20 years of facilitating strategy workshops with executive leadership teams and providing strategic counsel and coaching, I designed the Strategic Fitness System as a framework to help leaders navigate their business and enhance their executive performance. There are four areas of strategic fitness: Strategy, Leadership, Organization, and Communication.

Strategy Fitness
While there are many skills an executive must be proficient at in order to successfully run a business, research shows that none are as important as their strategic capability. A 25-year study of 750 bankrupt companies found that the number one cause of business failure—80 percent of the time—was bad strategy. How then does an executive ensure that strategy development isn’t a weakness that torpedoes their career and their company? By becoming more effective at the skills of strategic thinking and planning.

Strategy Fitness refers to your ability to set direction, allocate resources, make decisions, and create competitive advantage. As Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie wrote, “After twenty years of research, it is clear that mastery of strategy is not an innate skill. Most great CEOs learn how to become better strategic thinkers.” To help leaders identify areas of strength and areas for development, they can complete a strategic fitness performance assessment.

Here are five sample statements from the Strategy Fitness section of the assessment. Please respond with “Agree” or “Disagree” to each statement:

  1. Our team has a consistent definition and understanding of strategy.
  2. The strategic plan has been condensed to 1-2 pages to be useful in driving daily activities.
  3. The business model is reviewed at least once a year and modified when appropriate.
  4. I reallocate resources (e.g., people, time, budget) consistently throughout the year from underperforming areas to ones with greater performance or potential.
  5. Decision rights are clear throughout the business—everyone understands who ultimately makes each decision.

How did you score on this mini assessment of your Strategy Fitness?

Leadership Fitness
A leader is someone who guides and serves others to achieve their goals. We see leaders excel or falter in all walks of life, including business, government, sports, academia, military, and the non-profit sector. A leader’s impact is powerful, whether it’s in a positive or negative manner. A study of two million managers found that what makes the biggest difference in how people feel about their workplace is how their leaders behave. A leader’s behavior is shaped by their knowledge, skills, and experience.

In order to excel at this wonderful opportunity, an executive must develop a solid leadership foundation. Leadership Fitness is built on an individual’s values, leadership identity, emotional intelligence and all the elements that contribute to their personal performance. When an executive has a defined leadership philosophy, employees report being 40 percent more engaged than those who work for a leader that has not clarified what they stand for.

Here are five sample statements for Leadership Fitness:

  1. I’ve created a leadership identity statement that describes how I use my values and strengths to serve others.
  2. There is a professional development plan in place in which I actively identify knowledge, skills, and other areas for my improvement.
  3. I exercise at least three times most weeks to maintain physical fitness.
  4. I do not multitask (e.g., check phone) when engaged with others in meetings.
  5. I practice social awareness by assessing other’s emotions in order to be empathetic to their point of view.

How did you score on this mini-assessment of your Leadership Fitness?

Organization Fitness
As I’ve worked with functional area leaders who are promoted to a senior leadership role that spans the business, one of the biggest transitions is from a single-business focus to an enterprise-wide perspective. It’s no longer just about what’s best for “your people”—it’s about what’s best for the organization as a whole. Occasionally, that means giving head count, budget, or responsibilities to other leaders who are in a position to more effectively leverage them.

This more expansive view of the business requires a vision for what is today and what could be in the future. The current report card on this ability shows it needs work. Gallup research has found that 59 percent of employees don’t know what their organization stands for and what makes it different from competitors. Does your organization’s strategic direction, purpose, and culture align?

Here are five sample statements on your Organization Fitness:

  1. We do not allow fire drills (urgent but unimportant issues) to distract us from our priorities.
  2. We take time after projects to evaluate their success or failure and document the learnings.
  3. There is a disciplined process in place for dealing with underperformers that includes coaching them up or out in a timely manner.
  4. Innovation workshops are held to stimulate thinking around ways to create new value for the organization and customers.
  5. I carve out time in my calendar for strategic thinking.

How did you score on this mini-assessment of your Organization Fitness?

Communication Fitness
To communicate is to interchange ideas and information with others to develop shared meaning. To be an effective communicator, a leader must continuously assess the audience they’re communicating with, the intent, message structure, and most appropriate channel. While decisions on audience, intent, and message structure are typically made on the fly, the channel of communication is often determined once and simply repeated automatically in the future.

For example, an executive’s one-to-one meetings with direct reports are initially designed to be a quick check-in on hot topics but can morph into time-consuming fire drill updates on urgent but unimportant topics. The monthly staff meeting can become a stale rehash of the same topics over and over again with little progress being made. The point is that a leader should periodically assess the channels they use to communicate and re-evaluate them to see if any can be modified or even eliminated to make better use of time.

Here are five sample statements on Communication Fitness:

  1. My direct reports provide a concise written update on their business to me on a consistent basis.
  2. We do not work in silos—we share relevant information across groups effectively.
  3. We have conducted a Meeting’s Audit in the past year to assess each type of meeting, and whether it should be continued, modified, or eliminated.
  4. For strategy off-site meetings, we use an external strategy expert to facilitate in order to avoid biases, internal politics, and challenge our thinking.
  5. Meetings with external stakeholders (e.g., board of directors, shareholders, etc.) are effective and efficient.

How did you score on this mini assessment of your Communication Fitness?

In a world where market shifts, evolving customer preferences, and new competitors are emerging faster than ever, it’s important to have a guide to keep you on the right path. Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, says, “To me, the single most important skill needed for any CEO today is strategic acuity.”

The Strategic Approach System is one option to navigate the business and enhance your executive performance through four types of fitness: Strategic, Leadership, Organizational, and Communicational. Or there’s option B: you can bet the fate of your company and your career on the Whac-A-Mole strategy—just don’t stop swinging.

Need help finding a speaker for the perfect event?

Send a simple request. You’ll get a quick reply with fees and availability

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.