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Think of strategy as an act of seduction

Nov 22, 2010 Business Daily, Strategy

“Successful strategies are compelling and persuasive in the eye of the beholder – put more vividly, they are seductive. The real power of any strategy is the power it affords to entice people into sharing an image of the future. Notice that I said entice – not delude or manipulate. That is not an easy task for a leader to pull off”

JEANNE LIEDTKA ‘Strategy Bites Back’ (2005)

I am always on the lookout for unusual thoughts and insights about business and management, and boy, did I find one this week. Jeanne Liedtka of the Darden School wrote a lovely piece in ‘Strategy Bites Back’ probably the most enjoyable strategy book in my library (edited by Henry Mintzberg and others).

The real power of strategy, says Liedtka, lies in its power to seduce. Leaders should spend as much time seducing as deducing, if they want their strategy to fly. The reason is that the old way of doing strategy – command and control, I think, you implement – simply doesn’t work any more. If you want your people to get behind a strategy, be inspired by it, and change their behaviour in order to deliver it – you have to seduce them first.

Note that word: ‘seduce’. Don’t think of it in the usual dictionary sense, which is to manipulate someone into doing something undesirable or foolish. Here, the meaning is different: think more about charming or persuading people to do something ambitious and daring – more like a courtship. Liedtka says business leaders should learn from the timeless art of seduction.

First, strategy must start as conversations, not edicts. Do leaders really have conversations in Kenya? It’s generally a one-way stream. They pretend to listen to you, but have usually concluded matters even before you walk into the conversation. Strategy has to be a willing and enjoyable interaction, not an act of coercion.

Second, a seduction focuses first on what’s possible and enjoyable, not on constraints, risks, difficulties. Strategy must also start off open-ended. If there’s one thing you can bank on, it’s that your business tomorrow will not be the same as it is today. Strategy is no longer a forecast or an extrapolation of history – it’s primarily an act of imagination and of thinking the unforeseeable.

Third, chemistry matters. You have to have a team that you generate sparks with, who find what you say attractive and convincing. Strategy must quicken the pulse, otherwise it’s yawn and go home. For that you need people who connect with you, respect you, and follow you out of choice.

Fourth, strategy, like seduction, is an act of patience. It requires a series of interactions, a gradual dawning of possibilities and a building of belief. It is not a one-act play: more a gentle process than an exciting event.

Lastly, the outcome is not certain. You don’t really control strategy, these days you unleash it. You have to be ready to be uncomfortable and uncertain. You have to enjoy the process as well as the outcome.

So there you are – plenty to think about as you ponder why strategy does or not work at your organization. Whether you like the metaphor or not, the bottom line is this: strategy is no longer about the genius leader sending strategies down from the mountaintop for the peasantry to execute (or be executed)! The old days of preconceived strategies being pushed down the throats of unwilling executives in the sylvan settings of Naivasha are gone.

Strategy in today’s and tomorrow’s world is an ongoing conversation using the art of persuasion. It is an act of imagination, and exploration into what is possible and desirable. It is the bringing together of like minds and kindred spirits. Hence a seduction…

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