Creating a Winning Strategy

Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

When life is orderly and tasks are predictable and most things are going well, people neither want nor need much leadership. Comfortable people are not looking for a leader and change. In those circumstances people want “peace time” management and leadership.

“Peace time” management involves incremental modification of what exists without major disruption and without any major emotional consequences. In “peace time”, when there’s no sense of emergency or urgency, “leaders” don’t have to be special and they don’t have to generate an emotional following. “Leaders” are simply people who occupy positions of power. Anyone in those positions is seen as a “leader” irrespective of what they do, because there’s no need to do very much. And that’s fine with their followers as long as life remains comfortable and orderly.

Today there are few circumstances in which “peace time” conditions prevail. It’s just the opposite in this era of globalization we must find comfort in endless danger.

Technology has created a borderless world. More and more, it doesn’t matter where work is done. Everyone has lost the protection of distance and time, as this results in increased opportunities and greatly increased competition.

The desire for leadership results from crisis and urgency – what I call “war time”. In “war time” conditions, when the world is scary and the future uncertain, when people are experiencing fear, dread, and exhaustion, they have an emotional need for a leader, a person whom they can trust and to whom they can make an emotional commitment.

Emotional Leadership in “war time” requires the leaders:

Define the business of the business. Deciding what’s the business of the business is the first step in setting priorities. Setting priorities is a major leadership responsibility, because without priorities, efforts are splintered. Leaders must get people to focus, to be involved only in what matters the most. The best leadership frames the organization’s mission and values in ways that people find transcendent: The goals of the business are transformed from the dross of ordinary work into goals worthy of heroic efforts.

Create a winning strategy. Leaders create a strategy that causes the organization to succeed, to grow, and beat the competition. A winning strategy depends on what the organization does better than anyone else to be the customer’s choice. For strategy to succeed it must anticipate, create and guide change and it must create commitment. It needs to be so plausible, bold, and achievable that it generates the conviction that even if the journey is hard, it’s worth taking because the strategy has created a major competitive advantage.

Communicate persuasively. Leaders know that trust is a competitive advantage. Basically, trust is a matter of predictability. People trust others when they’re told something will happen and it does which is why major change always threatens trust and confidence in the leadership. Absent or ineffective communication results in an enormous increase in mistrust, cynicism, and a huge decline in confidence in the leadership. During periods of change, most leaders send out too many communications so not much gets through. Leaders must decide what few pieces of information people really need to know, simplify the messages, and communicate in person.

Behave with integrity. Without integrity, trust is never achieved. The best leaders are transparent; they do what they say, they walk the talk. People believe them because they act in line with the values they espouse; there are no Machiavellian games of manipulation. Having integrity requires being truthful with one’s self as well as with others. Behaving with integrity means being consistent in choices and actions which require conviction and a steadfastness of purpose in distinguishing between right and wrong, wise and foolish.

Respect others. The best leaders don’t waste other people’s brains. Leaders need a core sense of confidence which allows them to be comfortable receiving input, including disagreement, from others. They don’t experience needing other people’s input as demeaning. Today, subordinates can bring lots of experience, knowledge and skills to the table, if their leaders are willing to hear. Hearing others, like empowering others, isn’t a matter of process; it’s a matter of respect.

Act. The “peace time” manager is great at planning and logistics, tasks in which people work hard but no one gets hurt. In contrast, in “war time” leaders must consider doing the unbearable. Thus “war time” leadership requires strength of character, self-discipline, courage and often deviance from what’s popular. When leaders don’t act they are perceived as indecisive and weak – and that increases people’s sense of anxiety, powerlessness and insecurity. People need to perceive that leaders believe that change creates more opportunity than threat. Thus, even while leaders must keep contact with reality, they also must be optimists.

Today, leaders must convince people that dealing with unending change will result in something better. Leadership, ultimately, is an emotional bond, sometimes even a passionate commitment between followers and the leader’s goals. Leaders generate hope and conviction in followers.

At the emotional level, “war time” leaders create followers because they generate confidence in people who are frightened, certainty in people who were vacillating, action where there was hesitation, strength where there was weakness, expertise where there was floundering, courage where there was fear and effective optimism where there was cynicism.

“War time” leadership is not intellectual or cognitive, it always is emotional.


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