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Are your Strategists hidden? [interview]

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PS:                       Hi, Patricia Stallworth here with the biz money network. Want to find out what it takes to be a bad-ass entrepreneur? Stay tuned.

PS:                       Patricia Stallworth, here again with my guest, Cecilia Lynch. Cecilia is the CEO and Chief Strategist at Focused Momentum, a strategic planning firm. She is the author of Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking and she has been featured in numerous offline and online publications including Fintechranking.com, and she was recently voted a bad-ass entrepreneur by IdeaMench. Welcome, Cecilia.

CL:                       Hi Patricia. Thanks for having me.

PS:                       So I am not going to mince words. I am going to jump right in with my first question. What makes you such a bad-ass?

CL:                       Huh, well I think it starts with my Irish heritage. I'm sure that's part of it because the Irish are definitely a passionate bunch. But I think the reason why the handle resonates with so many people, the bad-ass handle, resonates because I was born with a really quick and dyslexic mind and it really allows me to listen to a wide variety of input very quickly and see patterns in it. But, when I worked with my clients, or you know, I am in the process of developing strategy, I often reach kind of a crystal clear understanding of the situation and how we should think about things in advance of the people around me. And I am also, you know, really strong independent woman. So I think that that, that also kind of connects with, uh, that phrase bad-ass.

PS:                       All right. Now, just so that we are all on the same page. Can you provide us with a quick definition of strategic thinking?

CL:                       Yeah. Strategic thinking is the ability to start with the end and then work backward to ensure that what you are doing is aligned with your ultimate vision or what you are ultimately trying to achieve. So strategic thinking differs from the discipline and practice and problem-solving or even a lot of traditional planning processes because so many of those efforts start with where you are and what are we going to do next? How do we move forward in that next step? And they often or sometimes can get distracted and get off track by some of those distractions, and ended up going to a place they did not want to go and then needed to get back on track. So the strategic thinking is the basis for great strategic planning for organizations, but it is also a discipline that you can use yours in your personal life. It's really about stopping and not kind of reacting or thinking how do I solve this problem, but kind of redefining the problem and really setting broader context so that whatever you decide to do is not only going to get you, is gonna you know, mean you take that next step, but that, that next step is going to be heading in the right direction for you.

PS:                       That is really interesting. Is strategic thinking, do you think that's something that people are born with or do you think that's something that can be created?

CL:                       So I think that some of us who are a bit more intuitive or kind of maybe more naturally oriented to strategic thinking, but even then you need to learn some disciplines about strategic thinking in order to really apply it. So I think great strategic thinkers are created. I mean, I think some of us come to a little bit more easily than others, but it definitely is a practice that you can learn.

PS:                       Well in doing my own homework for the interview, I read a recent study about that, talked about how only a small percentage of executives really rate themselves as effective in developing and executing a company strategy and with all of the changes that are going on today, like changes in the tax laws and regulations. That's got to put some companies at a real disadvantage. Can you speak to that and what companies can do to be better prepared?

CL:                       Yeah. I know there's been a lot of research on strategic thinking skills and competencies in executive leadership. And you know, it's really hard. It is a hard time to kind of set a winning strategy and stick with it. During times of high change, executive teams can do what we call “circle the wagons”, when they go off to decide what to do. And that means really kind of become a lot more insular and exclude people from the process versus include people in the process. And that happens a lot of times because, you know, they're really struggling with the ability to control situations and gain confidence in their decision making, so they kind of have less people involved because they feel like that then is even will limit the chaos in the conversations, and that's the opposite of what they need to do during times of high change.

CL:                       We take a different approach to doing strategy and allow those executive teams to take advantage of the talent that they have within their organization that doesn't exist on the executive team. So even though executive teams rate themselves not as favorably as they could on strategic thinking or the ability to drive strategy that shouldn't limit them from being successful at that effort. They just need to make sure they have a process in which they find and engage those hidden strategists that they have in the organization. And we see those. We really rely on those hidden strategists when we develop a strategy with our clients.

PS:                       So in terms of the hidden strategists that you just talked about, if not at the executive level, how do companies typically find these people are, or what are some traits or characteristics that they should be on the lookout for to find them? Because it sounds like they could be the key to really in some cases, saving the company.

CL:                       Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes they are actually. We have been doing this for awhile, and there are some things that we see consistently. When we do our strategic assessments, we do talk to a tremendous amount of people in an effort to gather information for strategy work and to find those hidden strategists. 

CL:                       First they are naturally curious people. When we conducted interviews with them, they sometimes ask more questions then they state opinions. They are curious about the process or curious about kind of what other people do. They are just really curious people. They kind of come at our engagements with that inquisitive mind.

CL:                       They are also great listeners. So not only do they ask questions, but they are listening a lot. You see this mostly in the group settings where we do large group conversations, and they are really intently taking in information and listening.  And I don't mean to say that they are all extra introverts who don't talk a lot. They sometimes talk a lot, but they are really listening, and I think this builds on their curiosity. What we see is that they are not stating opinions a lot or advocating for a point of view, they are listening and building their thinking.

CL:                       Another thing is that they tend not to have broad spheres of influence. So this is something that we have noticed over the years, and that's why we call them hidden strategist because they are usually in positions in which they have limited scope. They prefer not to take a broad leadership role. Which is why they don't go for positions on the executive committee. They tend to be happiest when they can drive change and innovate from within.  They may be an individual contributor or doing that, or they may be a manager of a department or a highly influential functional area head, but they tend not to be someone who's looking for a senior leadership position. They are very bad at politics, and they are wary of it; it drains them.

CL:                       They also are very deeply passionate about the business. So they're the kind of person that you start a conversation, and they can tell you a ton about both the business, the market, they study it, and they are very deeply knowledgeable. Because they are curious, because they listened well, they are very deeply passionate about the business. When we start to talk to them, and they are kind of endless in terms of information that they can flow, we think, Aha, here's somebody who we are gonna significantly leverage. They are going to really help. But then probably one of the most interesting things is that they are women.

PS:                       Excuse me, did you say they were women?

CL:                       Yeah. A lot of times, nine times out of 10, those hidden strategists are women that are passionate about the business, are naturally curious, are great listeners, and have limited their scope in terms of being visible in the company and their women. There has been some recent research that underscores this as well. It certainly wasn't surprising for me to see this in the research, we see it at various levels. I mean, we have seen women hidden strategists in our client groups be at board levels where they have maybe not been the president of the board, but they are very much people who have been observing, and they really had a clear point of view, and we leveraged them; we pulled him out.

CL:                       They can also be individuals. I remember once in one client there was a woman who was a marketing manager who was doing brilliant things, who had great opinions and because she was never really invited into an executive team to engage in conversations, she wasn't tapped in strategy work. Once we discovered her, we brought her into the process, and she was able to really influence a lot of thinking.

CL:                       When executive teams go to look to augment their strategic planning capabilities and their strategic thinking processes, they should definitely be looking for people who are curious, great listeners, maybe a little shy to take a broader influence in the organization, but show a deep passion for the industry and don't be surprised if they're a woman.

PS:                       Oh wow, that's interesting. But of course there is another option, and that is that they could hire a firm like yours to not just help them uncover those strategists in their organization, but also to help them develop a strategy going forward. But to be honest, in doing my research, I didn't hear a lot of good things about the success rates of strategic planning efforts. How does bringing in an expert like your from address that, or what is different about your approach?

CL:                       Well, we have already made the case for why doing it by yourself probably doesn't help. If you don't have the resources within your executive team to do it, you probably need to find some help. If you don't know how to bring people into the process, you need to bring in some help. The rates of success are appalling to me because I think the statistics that I have seen, which are greatly improved in the last 10 years, is that about 85 percent of the time executives believe that their strategic planning efforts failed. And that shocks me quite honestly because we have done analysis on our engagements over the years, and we have been doing this for 20 years now, and our clients hit their goals a year ahead of plan. When we do a long-range plan, we expect that we will be back in three to five years to update the strategic planning, but we are being called back in, 18 to 24 months to re-calibrate because they just performed at a stellar level. So those statistics tell me that this "circle the wagon" thing is real, that people are looking at problem-solving versus strategic thinking, and that they need to bring in expertise to help build the right process for them and engage their hidden strategist in what will really be powerful strategic thinking.

PS:                       That certainly sounds like worth looking into the whole world of strategists, and strategic thinking and strategic planning can seem a little bit difficult to grasp sometimes. But I want to thank you for really explaining that aspect of it. And it seems pretty down to Earth when you really think about it. This has been a really great interview. I've enjoyed it. But before I let you go, I understand that you have lots of blog posts and even a free e-book on your website that goes into more detail on the topic of strategic thinking. I always like to share resources with my audience. Would you mind sharing a link to your free ebook?

CL:                       You should go to our website at www.focusmomentum.com, and you will see a link to the ebook there. There is also resources both as you mentioned in our blog and also free resources for Quick Start Kits or tools that you can use, like checklists, etc. to actually start to dive into strategic planning on your own or learn about it. Shortly we are going to be offering some more online courses for individuals wanting to learn more about strategic thinking and to gain strategic focus to create the best plans for your organization.

PS:                       Thank you so much. And I want to say thank you again to my guests to Cecilia Lynch. She is the CEO and Chief Strategist at Focused Momentum. You can learn more about her and her company at focusedmomentum.com. Thanks so much for listening.

 

Post Tags: Women in Leadership Strategic Thinking

Cecilia Lynch

WRITTEN BY:Cecilia Lynch