4 Leadership Types That Can Destroy a Perfectly Good Strategy

Part 3 of a series on Strategy Development

In the second part of our series on Strategy ("10 Elements of a Great Strategy") we introduced several design elements that can be considered when constructing an organizational strategy, whether in the private, public or non-profit sectors. In this third and final part, we examine leadership’s role in the deployment and governance of the strategy.

Even if an organization has crafted a supremely excellent strategic plan, it will always be up to the leadership to deploy it, live it and sustain it. This is the key element that will either support the strategy and lead the organization forward, or undermine the strategy and potentially doom the organization to a damaging cycle of vague direction and shifting priorities. Poor leadership can essentially make the strategic planning efforts a waste of time, cheating the entire organization of an excellent chance to channel their intelligence, skills and energy towards an aligned set of goals and objectives.

One approach to this article could be to introduce the leadership traits that help to support a successful strategy, but it may be useful in this case to explore the antithesis of good leadership, to better illustrate the negative impact that poor leadership can have on an otherwise well-constructed strategic plan. Thus, here are the 4 leadership types that can destroy a perfectly good strategy:

1) The Pet Project Leader

This describes a leader who insists on straying away from their own list of agreed-upon strategic initiatives to pursue random and sometimes fanciful ideas, seemingly on a whim. This kind of behavior not only undermines the established strategy, it can lead to confusion and even exasperation among the team, as priorities and projects shift gears on a nearly daily basis. While it is perfectly fine to generate new ideas even after a strategy is formed and deployed, they should be limited to ones that either complement the existing direction or are a breakthrough innovation that cannot be ignored. Constant ‘dreaming’ about new initiatives will only serve to create organizational churn and, in the end, result in a lack of any real accomplishments.

2) The Unsustaining Leader

This is a leader who may have gotten engaged in the initial design of the strategic plan and even actively promoted it, but does not drive one of the most important aspects of a good strategy: Governance. Either they do not make the time to personally lead regular strategic reviews, or they delegate to a subordinate who lacks the influence and organizational clout to keep the strategy going. The result is a strategy that is not being sustained properly, and all the time and energy that went into its design goes to waste. No follow-up means no strategy. If the operating environment has changed and there are some critical short-term issues that need to be addressed, perhaps the strategy needs to be modified or scaled-down, but to continue throughout the year with a nonexistent or compromised governance process, and all the while pretending that the strategy is still solidly in place, is a recipe for strategic inaction and organizational apathy.


3) The Inflexible Leader

This leadership type is one that is defined primarily by stubbornness and denial, whereby a leader unswervingly sticks to a strategy despite critical changes that may transpire after it is initially deployed.

Strategies, no matter how well crafted, sometimes need to be slightly adjusted, completely altered or even totally discarded. It is important to recognize when change is required and not to cling to a potentially outdated approach. It could be that the leader personally hatched the initial strategy and is particularly proud of it, but nonetheless it is imperative that an objective view be taken of the strategic situation and that alterations be made if deemed necessary.

There may be fundamental and unanticipated changes taking place - either internally within the organization or externally within the environment it operates in - which demand a reassessment and potential modification of the strategic plan. While it is generally true that an organization should hold its course if it still believes it is the right one, and not succumb to short-term distractions, this does not always mean that a strategy should go on untouched forever, and the leader needs to lead the organization through this scenario calibration.

4) The Wishful Thinking Leader

This is a leader who, for whatever reason, does not allocate adequate resources that are needed to execute the strategy. They want to accomplish so many things, and expect the organization to just get it done without key enablers such as time and money. You can wish anything to take place, but it likely will not happen, or at least not happen correctly, without careful deployment of human and capital resources.

Part of the resource allocation that a good leader must provide includes the proper administration of the governance process, which could entail a full-time role such a Strategist or a part-time responsibility embedded in an existing role such as a Chief of Staff or Executive Assistant. If all the resources are not available, then perhaps the strategy needs to be scaled back, but there is nothing worse than telling an organization what the direction is, outlining all the imperatives and getting the team excited, but then fail to provide the necessary means to achieve the aspirations.

One of the fundamental responsibilities of leadership is to develop, deploy and sustain an organizational strategy. If they fail to do these basic things, they are simply not doing their job. This is not a ‘nice to have’ element of their role.

Are your leaders wishful thinkers when it comes to actual resource requirements?

When a strategy fails, it is not only a matter of not meeting organizational objectives but it also lets down the people, undermining their efforts and sapping them of energy, optimism and excitement. It is not unlike puncturing a balloon that has been carefully and purposefully filled with air. And it is quite often the leadership who is responsible for the blowout.

To enable solid strategy execution, leaders need to be equipped with both the strategic tools as well as the strategic thinking and leadership traits required to make it all happen. I hope that this series of articles has stimulated some thinking in this key area of management, but I am sure there were some aspects that I missed. Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

For further reading:

Part 1: The Non-Strategy: How Some ‘Strategies’ Are Not Strategies At All

Part 2: 10 Elements of a Great Strategy