Every successful business either solves a problem or serves a need. That defines its mission, or definiteness of purpose. It is the guiding light through which the leader operates and drives the business.
Effective leaders know there is a difference between a company’s mission and how it accomplishes that mission…(through its operational systems). Its mission is the overall strategy while the operational systems are the underlying tactics employed that are needed to achieve that mission.
The modern definition of strategy is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”
While the modern definition of Tactic is “an action carefully planned to achieve a specific end.”
Many people confuse strategy and tactics as synonymous or interchangeable. Great leaders understand that one cannot be substituted for the other and both are required to be successful.
The Chinese General Sun Tzu recognized this long ago when he stated, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.”
In other words, without a strategy you risk moving through life without direction, or drifting, as Napoleon Hill described in Outwitting the Devil. And without tactics, our strategy is comprised of wishful thinking and elevates risks related to underperformance and in some instances, constant disappointment.
In simple terms, strategy describes what you are trying to accomplish (your definiteness of purpose) while tactics describe how you are going to do it.
Let’s use a simple analogy to demonstrate the difference. A sailor has the goal of sailing to Catalina Island off the coast of California. That is his definiteness of purpose, or his strategy. He charts his course, choosing his tactics on how to reach his goal. However, as he leaves port from the mainland the wind suddenly shifts, and he is forced to change his tactics quickly. But it does not change his goal of reaching Catalina, his final destination.
His what (strategy) has not changed…but the how (tactic) has been forced to change.
What happens when external forces create the need for change? These external forces can be economic, environmental or a worldwide pandemic…all of which are outside your direct control. While the strategy to accomplish your definiteness of purpose remains constant, the tactics are forced to change as circumstances change. This was dramatically demonstrated over the last 18 months when many businesses shuttered their doors, while other businesses found ways to retool and refire. For example:
Gyms and fitness centers were forced to close. However, some owners showed the ability to lead through the change by providing virtual classes and/or renting their equipment for in-home use. The strategy of providing steps, resources and tools did not change. What changed was the tactics for how they accomplished their strategy (i.e. moving from in person to online delivery).
Restaurants that chose not to close completely, quickly converted to on-line ordering and delivery services. The strategy of providing food services did not change… the tactics for delivery changed.
To keep solvent, stores and retailers partnered with technology companies to provide virtual ordering and mobile delivery services. For instance, Walgreens partnered with Postmates allowing it to serve its customers more quickly and efficiently.
Businesses built on in-person meetings had to find a way to change tactics. For instance, Banzai International Inc had a business model of primarily in-person conferences in the Los Angeles area. Only 13% of its events were online. To navigate the impact of the pandemic, they acquired the firm High Attendance in August of 2020. This company specialized in virtual events which allowed them to change their tactic on how they delivered programming very quickly. As a result, they have surpassed their pre-pandemic numbers and proudly support clients like Nextiva, Red Hat, and Egnyte.
In all of these examples the leaders chose to change their tactics in order to achieve and succeed in their strategy or definiteness of purpose.
A leader needs to learn how to embrace change…as well as find the courage and the willingness to recognize when they need to drive and create the change. And the speed of that change is becoming increasingly more important.
A leader should be committed to any change that solves problems or serves needsat the highest level for the organization, its customers, or his or her team. He or she understands the importance of communication, collaboration and the need to commit to the accomplishment of the definiteness of purpose.
Change and Innovation go hand in hand. Whether the economic market dictates the change, or it evolves from other external factors, or even from within the organization, innovation is the result of finding the application of better solutions that meet the new challenges and propels your organization to a more successful outcome. Innovation is tactical.
I believe you do this by creating a culture and environment of collaboration and communication, maximizing and relying on your team’s individual talents and versatility, and engaging them in the solution. Teams that work together to embrace change as incentive to deliver better results to the bottom line. This may mean seeking and finding a new market, or a new association that will allow the leader to leverage his or her talent and resources to propel a more successful outcome.
This was validated by a recent Harvard Business Review article which discussed the impact of COVID on leadership and shared a new paradigm of change… describing it as having evolved to a three-dimensional (3-D) model. It is perpetual, pervasive and exponential. Perpetual because it is ongoing, pervasive because it is affecting all aspects of our lives and exponential because it seems to be accelerating.
The article shares that a group of world-class leaders got together, sponsored by Stanford University, to discuss the leadership skills needed to lead through this new 3-D change paradigm. As a result they created a new vision for leadership, which they called Sapient Leadership.
A Sapient Leader is characterized by being wise, sagacious, and discerning in navigating change while also being humane in the face of change that can often feel alien. This kind of leadership emphasizes — counterintuitively — an anti-heroic leader. Sapient Leaders exhibit authenticity, humility, and vulnerability, inspiring the necessary trust and psychological safety that drives shared learning and intelligence, resulting in enhanced collective performance and leading to a better future for all.
This definition introduces the term “psychological safety,” that has been echoed in many studies looking at the impact of the pandemic. The mental health aspects of COVID are dramatic and have impacted employees at work, as well as at home. It is imperative for leaders to be aware of the mental health issues of their employees and making resources available to them in order to create more psychologically safe environment.
Change is ever-present. You have a choice to either be paralyzed by it or embrace it. Recognize that while your Definiteness of Purpose is strong and clear, you may be forced to reevaluate the tactics you are using to accomplish it. Consider the following six steps to build unity and collective power from your team.
To your continued success as a change leader!