The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs
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Based on an acclaimed professor's legendary strategy course at Harvard Business School, The Strategist offers a radically new perspective on a leader's most vital role.
"Are you a strategist?" That's the first question Cynthia Montgomery asks the business owners and senior executives from all over the world who participate in her highly regarded executive education course. It's not a question they anticipate or care much about on opening day. But by the time the program ends, they cannot imagine leading their companies to success without being—and living the role of—a strategist.
Over a series of weeks and months, Montgomery puts these accomplished executives through their paces. Using case discussions, after-hours talks, and participants' own strategy dilemmas, she illuminates what strategy is, why it's important, and what it takes to lead the effort. En route, she equips them to confront the most essential question facing every business leader: Does this company truly matter? In doing so, she shows that strategy is not just a tool for outwitting the competition; it is the most powerful means a leader has for shaping a company itself.
The Strategist exposes all business leaders—whether they run a global enterprise or a small business—to the invaluable insights Montgomery shares with these privileged executives. By distilling the experiences and insights gleaned in the classroom, Montgomery helps leaders develop the skills and sensibilities they need to become strategists themselves. It is a difficult role, but little else one does as a leader is likely to matter more.
start. If leaders lack a clear idea about what they want their businesses to be, they cannot build coherent systems of value creation because they don’t know what they should be designed to do exactly or how their success should be measured. That leaves them to fiddle at the margins of success with generically good practices such as “state of the art” sales management approaches or Total Quality Management.42 These may be helpful, but they’re not what will help you find an edge and live on it.
in the way you look at every opportunity. You will find yourself instinctively asking whether that new business, customer, or product adds value, whether it really fits with what you are doing, and whether it benefits from or enhances the business as a whole. Only then will you truly own your strategy. Even so, you will continually have to adapt. Shifts in the economy, in your industry, or in your own shop may force you to reconsider your approach and maybe even reinvent it. As we will see in
more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.”12 Very rare is the leader who will not, at some point in his or her career, have to overhaul a company’s strategy in perhaps dramatic ways. Sometimes this brings moments of epiphany—eureka flashes of insight that ignite dazzling new ways of thinking about an enterprise, its purpose, its potential. I have witnessed some of these moments, in small group meetings or even in the classroom, as managers reconceptualize what their
meaning to their businesses and also to themselves. During the last days of the EOP program, I ask the class to read a rather unusual article by the late Harvard philosophy professor Robert Nozick.19 It proposes that we substitute the difficulties and potential dreariness of daily living with an Experience Machine, a kind of virtual reality contraption. Nozick asks us to contemplate a world where we can achieve anything we wish, fully formed, simply by programming and stepping into this machine.
thereafter was a living embodiment of this “new” field of strategy. In time, though, a host of unintended consequences developed from what in its own right was a very good thing. Most notably, strategy became more about formulation than implementation, and more about getting the analysis right at the outset than living with a strategy over time. Equally problematic, the leader’s unique role as arbiter and steward of strategy had been eclipsed. While countless books have been written about