How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 3 Straight Talk || The Table is a MYTH!!! You are The Table Please note: This article and its remaini

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How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 3

Straight Talk || The Table is a MYTH!!!

You are The Table


Please note: This article and its remaining parts reflect the area Mr. Lukaszewski is most known for—being an important management communications strategist.

Part 1, “Straight Talk: Demystifying Strategy” (5/23/21) discussed Jim’s philosophy and assumptions, the expectations of trusted advisors, the five intentions of the strategist mindset, and how to demystify strategy. Read Here: How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 1

Part 2, “Having Strategic Impact” (1/27/22) discussed why strategies fail, how to use management language, how to have strategic insight, and making recommendations in an operations context. Read Here: How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 2

Part 3, “Straight Talk: The Table is a MYTH!!!” points out that The Table is an age-old staff myth, probably centuries in the making. It is designed to help you chase your tail to find a destination that never exists and at which no boss wants to be found. The lesson is “You are The Table” and this addresses how to get to be The Table.

Part 4, “The Trusted Strategic Advisor’s Manifesto” will address ten areas for serious personal and professional reflection and how to prove you are a trusted strategic advisor.

So Where Is The Table?

I’ve written and talked about the myth of The Table for many years and CEOS are well-aware of my opinions. They still ask, “Jim, where is this table people are always talking about? Is it somewhere near my office? If I find out where it’s located, do I have to go there? If I do go there, who is at this table? Or is it the same whiny staff people and consultants I always deal with?” It may seem funny to read these questions, but they are legitimate. Asked by managers and leaders who would rather end the myth of The Table and want us to work another way with trusted advisors and small groups with specific purposes. The answers to these questions are, of course, The Table is nowhere. No, you don’t have to go there – it’s a waste of time. Yes, that’s all your're going find in such a gathering: the whiners, bellyachers and back bench complainers among your staff and consultants, each of whom feels that they know what to do better than you.

The real role of the trusted advisor is, when the chips are down, to connect leaders with key insiders and outsiders with valuable experience and expertise who can give a genuinely helpful inside or outside view of what you’re about to experience. Trusted advisors always blow away staff barricades that keep executives inside a closed ring of internal advisors.These barricades never work and they can destroy the trust you are working so hard to build.

Lucky for you, The Table everyone talks about getting to is a myth. Yes, there are meetings, seminars, webinars, conferences, teleconferences, video conferences, tele-task forces, study groups, podcasts and on and on. There are advisory committees, boards, all populated by well-meaning, highly motivated, energetic individuals working to get things done.

Although each of these groups can play a useful and often important role in advancement of various organizational and business objectives, the meaningful breakthroughs are achieved through other means. Significant progress in the crystallization of leadership aspirations is usually the work of trusted individual advisors working directly with a leader or leadership group within an organization and having a constructive, measurable impact. They are invited by executives personally to participate in various discussions and activities usually on an ad hoc basis.

So, if you want to be called earlier (sometimes first) by those who lead the organization, it’s unlikely to happen in a group setting. If you have meaningful advice to offer and you can get the attention of someone important to talk to you, you’re becoming your own table. If you seek to improve your access, impact and influence, there are ingredients you build for yourself to help you become The Table.

Think about it. We all attend lots of meetings and there are often many people there. What do these meetings accomplish? The answer is, given the executive or influential individual who called the meeting, some additional status and the ability to say that he or she has met with all of you and heard what you have to say.

Meanwhile, just before the meeting and just after the meeting, you’ll see the leader or his or her #2 quietly ask various individuals to stay behind or go to another site once the meeting has concluded. That’s The Table, if there even is such a thing.

You bring The Table with you. When you are in the room, The Table is full. When you study the significant decisions leaders make, when you study successful organizations and the actions of those who lead them, you find that these top individuals seek out those with special insight, those with special skills, individually rather than collectively. It’s those who provide the crucial information increments and options leaders need to make significant decisions.

Now let’s talk about what bosses are looking for from those who are The Table.

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First, Important Business Knowledge That Bosses Need to Know

One of the communications strategist’s main values is to provide the boss with effective information and feedback with which to run the business. Bosses generally look for six kinds of feedback:

Data Feedback: Facts and information.
Feeling Feedback: Emotional intelligence about the states of minds of various constituencies.
Intelligence of the Old-Fashioned Kind: What is going out there, what should he/she know about that no one else knows about, where is the edge?
Advance Information: Threats and exposure, unplanned visibility, organizational impact forecast.
Real-Time Concerns: What are the things that executives should worry about today, tonight, and tomorrow morning; what can be deferred and why.
Peer Activities: Strategies, mistakes, and successes.

Second, Acting in the Interests of the Business Always Means Facing Tough Personal Questions

Can you separate yourself from your own predispositions, assumptions, and largely anti-management biases?
Can you add positive energy to what management must accomplish?
Can you move different constituencies to listen, to follow and to act?
Can you build the expectation of a strategic contribution from you in management’s eyes?
Can you expect an early call from the boss to help think things through?
Can you assess, then clearly and quickly analyze the impact of bad news? Good news? No news?
Can you expose management’s blind spots and suggest ways to overcome management’s limitations?
Can you manage your ego throughout the process?
Can you work successfully at a substantial altitude and keep the bigger picture in mind?

If you answer “No” to any of these questions, you have yet to achieve The Table status - you need to have the influence you seek.

Third, Stay Focused on the Ultimate Outcome

Goal #1 is to be outcome focused.

Strategy is a big picture activity. It is always outcome focused. That’s because strategy is always about the future. Strategy is a kind of magnetism that pushes, pulls, and adjusts the business in the larger context of its operations, but always in a constructive forward direction.

Too often public relations and other staff functions get bogged down in what happened yesterday, last week, last month, or last budget cycle. We spend far too much time trying to figure out how we got to where we are.

Once I was tasked to resolve the differences and build a working relationship between five very disparate organizations - labor unions, religious organizations, non-government organizations (NGOs), activists, and a very large business. The result of their inability to get together was public bickering, demonstrations, and potentially explosive confrontations.

At the suggestion of some very helpful people, one November day we all wound up in the home of a Presbyterian minister in East Brooklyn. When we arrived, a very jovial man invited us into his comfortable living room where a roaring fire greeted us. When the six of us sat down - one labor leader, one religious leader, one NGO leader, two individuals from the company, and me - Reverend Smith laid down the only ground rule for the day. He said, “Today’s discussion will be outcome focused. By that I
mean that anything that happened this morning, yesterday afternoon, last week, last month, last year, the last decade, the last century is irrelevant to today’s discussion. We will stay focused on what we can get done based on where we know we must go. Should any of you feel you must move backwards, I will nudge you forward. If you cannot go forward, then I will invite you to leave so that my wife and I can have a pleasant Sunday afternoon.”

This was an incredibly important meeting. After five years of painful, dangerous disagreement, we developed a one-page positive agreement in four hours, which was signed by everyone. I attribute this amazing success to the imperative of “outcome focus.”

The strategist is informed by the past but chooses those lessons that help give direction to the future. This is “outcome focus.”

Outcome focused meetings are at least 50 percent shorter. Time is not wasted discussing what can’t be changed. Forget the past. Recognize that, from their own perspective, everyone already owns some part of the past in ways we can never understand. Focus on the future, which no one yet owns, and no one can forecast accurately. In strategy, we all come to the future completely equal with every other staff function or management advisor. Victory can only be designed when there is total focus on the future. It is very hard to go forward while looking and thinking backward. Achieving success and obtaining goals happens in the future, never in the past.

Fourth, Strategy Is About the Future Because Good Management & Leadership are About Tomorrow

Recognize that strategy is always about the future. Yesterday is over - cannot be rewritten, redone, reestablished or readvised. Get over it and move on to tomorrow. That’s where managers and leaders actually want to be.

You can be a successful strategist anywhere in your organization. You do have to be sought out by the boss or someone the boss trusts. If you offer value, and the boss knows of that value and has respect for your thinking, you will be sought out. The person who is sought out is the person who can contribute something positive, useful, and of self-evident value from the boss’ perspective.

The main lessons I’m trying to share about becoming and developing the mind of a strategist are:

You are The Table if you always think in terms of action options, including doing nothing. Doing nothing is the most challenging strategy to figure out unless the boss or lawyers mention it first. Then you will do nothing - for a while. If you want to be a strategist, you have to be first to mention doing nothing, then explaining, if you can, why other options are better, more acceptable, or will lead to victory. In its simplest form, doing nothing is often the most appealing strategy for most managers, at least in the beginning.

You are The Table if you are a force for prompt, positive, forward thinking, outcome focused incremental, constructive action. Avoid the negativity, defensiveness, and time-wasting whining executives, particularly those in difficult situations, who tend to enjoy rehashing the past. Be reflective, but take only useful, positive lessons from the past, if any.

You are The Table if you take an approach to business problems from a business perspective. Use a management context. Separate yourself from the media and the media relations solution. If all you can think of is what the press release ought to say, you’re of very little value in strategic situations. All bosses think they can say those things better than you.

You are The Table if being a strategist means you are a successful, counterintuitive, energetically positive thinker - your focus must remain on the success of the team, its leadership, and promptly achieving useful, important, positive goals.

Be The Table, be the first person called and the last person the leader speaks to before they step through the curtain into the light.

Strategy is a challenge for tough-minded thinkers and relentlessly action-oriented doers. It’s like the apocryphal story of the young journalist interviewing Thomas Edison just after Edison successfully
invented the light bulb. The enthusiastic young journalist said, “Mr. Edison, I understand it took you 6,000 attempts to perfect the light bulb.” Mr. Edison replied, “That’s probably correct.” The reporter continued questioning, “Help me understand how a man of your obvious learning, knowledge, skill, ability, and creativity could make 6,000 mistaken attempts to make a simple light bulb. Isn’t that embarrassing? Or aren’t you as smart as your public relations people say you are?” Thomas Edison then reportedly replied, “Well, young man, I just ran out of ways to do it wrong.”

If you can genuinely put yourself in the boss’ shoes and look at things from an operational perspective, if you can think and talk in the vocabulary of management, if you can recommend strategic management process approaches and then apply what you know how to do where management really needs something done, you will have developed the mind of a strategist. You’ll be sought out. Count on it.

Next time I’ll look for you standing next to the boss in quiet intense conversation.


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