I have worked with executives who weren’t in a position to drive strategy but were seen as tacticians who were incapable of thinking about was coming. Barry was a Director of Operations; he was the guy “who got things done”. Nobody outworked this guy and nobody at his company understood the details of their operations as well as Barry. Barry’s boss Paul, the SVP of Operations told me that Barry didn’t have a strategic bone in his body. I told Paul that I didn’t believe that being strategic was a skeletal function, that it was simply a way of thinking. He wasn’t buying. Paul thought very highly of Barry and wanted to put him in the mix for succession planning. However, he didn’t feel comfortable putting Barry’s name forth in succession planning sessions because he was “too tactical.”
I tried to ferret out from Paul what exactly was missing from Barry’s repertoire that caused him to be too tactical. He had some difficulty describing what consigned Barry to being tactical. So, I asked him what he did that Barry didn’t do. He explained that Barry did not look far enough ahead. OK. Got that. “What else?” I asked. ‘He doesn’t connect what he is doing to the company’s overall goals and objectives” said Paul. “Does he know what those are?” I inquired. “Well, he should”, Paul, answered. I wondered (silently) if anyone had ever shared those with Barry.
I asked Barry if he knew what the big platforms were for his company. What are the big boys and girls talking about up there on the seventh floor? He had some sense but wasn’t crystal clear on all of it. He began working on finding out what the short, mid and long-term agenda was for his company. It wasn’t that difficult to determine where the company was placing its bets. Barry made it a point to connect whatever he was doing to one of the company’s key initiatives. He did this by using the same language that the top executives in the company were using. People began to recognize Barry as being capable of strategic thinking. So much so, that Barry was put in charge of the integration process when his company acquired a large competitor. His combination of tactical and strategic skills was on full display during that process. He did a wonderful job. Paul has retired. Barry is now a VP of Operations for the new combined enterprise.