Part of being a leader is being responsible for setting the organization’s direction. Keeping the conversation focused on the horizon; looking forward and planning the future. And, yes, that can be a real challenge. But it’s one you must take on. You have to accept responsibility for the organization’s direction. You can’t wait for someone else to set the strategic direction and tell you what to do. That’s a manager. You’re the leader. So lead.
As a strategic advisor, this is an issue I encounter quite often. And I’ve viewed it from various perspectives. As a board member, as an employee, and as an advisor, I’ve heard leaders say that (and I’ve certainly observed behavior that indicated that this was their attitude). As a leader, you’re expected to lead, not just wait for someone else to give you direction.
My advice? Even if you’re uncomfortable with it, take the initiative and develop a strategic vision yourself or in conjunction with your team. And then share that with your board. Push the conversation. Providing your ideas about where the organization should go by giving your board something to react to is often the best way to get (keep) things moving. It demonstrates that you are a confident, proactive leader who’s willing to stand up and set the organization’s direction. More often than not, boards receive this as a positive thing. They appreciate a leader who is willing to push the strategic conversation ahead. They appreciate a visionary leader. Be that person.
A few additional words of advice as you put forth that strategy:
- Be ready to back it up. It’s one thing to say “Here’s where I think we need to go.” It’s quite another to say why. Be sure you can make a logical, well-considered case. State your assumptions. The discussion can be about your vision and then (if in agreement vision-wise) about your assumptions.
- Be thick-skinned. Your board will often want to push back and edit (sometimes at painfully close detail!). Don’t be defensive. Allow them to understand your assumptions and conclusions. Look forward to an open conversation without taking criticism personally.
- Be confident, but flexible. By all means, don’t back away at the first sign of conflict or challenging questioning. But also don’t be so dug into your position that you can’t be open to other solid ideas or approaches. Be collaborative. Listen carefully to other ideas and/or other approaches.After all, the goal is to find a strategic direction that everyone can support. Finding that space can sometimes be a little challenging. But the end result will be a solid path forward for your organization.
Whether this exercise goes smoothly or not, these are healthy, valuable, and critical conversations to have. Don’t shy away from them. Welcome them. And if your organization doesn’t have its strategic direction defined, certainly don’t sit back and wait for your board to hand it to you. Do they need to be on-board? Absolutely. Do you need to sit back and wait for them to provide it? Absolutely not! Be a leader. Lead!