Jim’s Wisdom #24 May 13, 2021 How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 1 Straight Talk || Demystifying Strategy * * * This article and its t

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Jim’s Wisdom #24

May 13, 2021

How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 1

Straight Talk || Demystifying Strategy


This article and its three remaining parts reflect one of the areas Mr. Lukaszewski is most known for—being a communications strategist.

Part 2, “Having Strategic Impact” will discuss why strategies fail, how to use management language, how to have strategic insight, and making recommendations in an operational context.
Part 3, “Be the Table” describes how the communicator provides information critical to management and the business, why strategy is a big picture activity, how to be a force for prompt, positive forward thinking, and incremental constructive action.
Part 4 is “The Trusted Strategic Advisor’s Manifesto” 10 Areas for serious personal and professional reflection.

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Straight Talk

Before you and I can have an important and powerful discussion about developing a strategic mindset, we need to have a “clear the air” conversation in two parts. One about where I’m coming from, and the second about where public relations sits on the spectrum of senior management and leadership trust.

My philosophy as a Strategist:

All business problems are management problems before they become any other kind of problem.
All management problems are leadership challenges.
Leadership resides with those who can maintain more supporters than detractors.
Staff functions exist and are funded by leadership to help leaders do their jobs better.
Managers and leaders want to make their own decisions, often based on the advice they receive from trusted strategic advisors.

My assumptions:

1). You are the table. Senior staff always ask me, “Where is this table that my team feels they need to be seated at? Is it near my office? Do I ever have to go there? Will there be anyone besides the whiny people I meet with every day?”
2). Recognize what you need to do to be trusted and work toward achieving that every day.
3). You must be willing to change yourself to get where you want to be.
4). Your goal is to be the first one the boss calls, and the last person the boss listens to before acting.

What do leaders and managers expect from trusted advisors?

1). Candor, truth with an attitude, delivered right now.
2). Help with what to do next.
3). Provide useful, helpful, doable advice on the spot.
4). Provide options, rather than solutions.
5). Say things that matter.
6). Say things the boss doesn’t know.
7). Say things the boss needs to know.

Painful Realities

1). Of all the staff functions—security, planning, HR, etc.—public relations is generally considered the LEAST strategic.

An explanation: Virtually all managers and leaders believe themselves to be excellent communicators. When I’m teaching a group of peers, I always ask the question: “Is there anyone here who works for a boss who feels they are a bad communicator?” There is always a big laugh, but no one raises their hand. This is a problem for all communications staff. Unlike other staff functions where the boss relies on subject matter experts, when receiving communications advice and recommendations, there is an internal monologue with the manager debating whether they can think up something smarter or cleverer than what is being advised by the communications professional. Bosses are sure they communicate better than the communicators.

2). Most leaders and managers think of PR people as editors. That is because rather than thinking, we take a pencil and markup the nearest available document. The strategist is a thinker first.
3). Most leaders and managers think PR people are just tacticians. Our bag of tricks consists of 14 predictable concepts. Once a manager or leader works with a PR person for a few months, they learn to expect some combination of these tricks. Tacticians are a dime a dozen.
4). Most senior managers and leaders believe PR people have trouble telling the truth. Why? Because we often present management with approaches involving obfuscation, metaphors, and euphemisms. The truth is often simpler, more direct, more powerful, and persuasive than any alternative.
5). Of the seven general skills of a strategist—constructive approaches, management sensitivity, pattern intuition, pragmatism, strategic thinking, verbal precision, and unpredictability—it is the last skill that is the most important and powerful. Strategy is inherently unpredictable. Strategy is quite often the opposite of the obvious.

The five intentions of the strategist mindset:

1). Thinks higher, thinks broader, thinks deeper.
2). Inspires, Educates and Motivates through surprise
3). Finds new value and beneficial inconsistencies from old information and data
4). Prepared for the accidents and mistakes that point the way to new solutions and strategies. So many great discoveries come from accidents, errors and the unexpected.
5). Presents options: doing nothing, doing something, doing something more.

Demystifying Strategy

Strategy is one of the more mysterious areas of public relations practice. For many, being a strategist or strategic advisor is considered the top of our professional practice activity. However, merely including the word “strategist” in our title does not get us to where management objectives are debated, and decisions are made. The strategist must develop a management-oriented mindset and behaviors that attract management’s attention. The strategist also needs to learn why some strategies fail.

When discussing strategy and being a strategist, questions generally arise:

How do I get to the table?
What do I do once I get to “the table?”
Is there a real table?
How do I stay at the table?
How can I get better control of the boss?
Do I have true influence with the boss?
What I can I do to keep from being shot down by the lawyer and management consultants?
What exactly is “strategy?”

One of the funniest cartoons in “The Wizard of Id” shows the King handing his court jester—his PR person—a news release. The jester looks at the news release and says to the King, “This is just not news, your Highness.” The King replies, “Stamp it ‘secret.’” Now that’s strategy.

Federal Express is one of the most successful examples of fully integrating strategy, goals, and mission into one simple slogan: “Absolutely, Positively Anytime.”

Walt Disney’s mission statement, “To make people happy,” demonstrates that effective strategies are easily understandable.

General Electric’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch, began his tenure by clearly stating the company strategy. Each product would be #1 in its category, if it were #2, there must be a plan and deadline to become #1; and if neither, there must be a plan for exiting GE. This was a powerful, motivating combination of strategy, vision, goals, and mission. In his first five years as chairman, Welch eliminated more than 200,000 jobs, and gained the nickname, “Neutron Jack.” He overcame it, and is considered, by many, to have been one of the most successful managers of the 20th century.

The most effective goals and strategies to achieve them are simple, positive, focused, time sensitive, understandable, and achievable. How do your mission, vision, values, and strategy measure up?

Lukaszewski’s Definition of Strategy

A unique mixture of mental energy injected into an organization through communication, which results in behavior that achieves organizational objectives.

Strategy is the number 1 job of a leader.
Strategy is the key attribute of leadership.
Strategy is the energy that drives business and organization, guides leadership, and directs the team.
Strategy draws people in the same direction.
Strategy is a positive, energizing state of mind.
Strategy is about future destinations. No strategy, no future.
Strategy is always about tomorrow: are you a person of tomorrow?

Strategy is also:

Momentum for the current plan of action.
Moral and ethical guidelines for achieving important goals.
Crucial intellectual ingredient for success.

What is NOT strategic:

Focusing on the unimportant.
Teaching the value of staff functions.
Labeling actions and ideas as strategies.
Suggesting “stuff”.
Leading with obfuscations, metaphors and euphemisms.

In Part Two, “Having Strategic Impact,” we will discuss why strategies fail, how to use management language, how to have strategic insight, and making recommendations in an operational context.

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