How leaders move from strategy to action (and what often goes wrong)


Your leadership vision is only as good as your ability to fulfill it.  We may have an exciting and engaging leadership vision, but if we don’t take action it is ultimately worthless.  Imagine how we would view John F Kennedy’s speech about putting a man on the moon if it didn’t happen.  It was a bold vision and we tried hard, but…

How leaders move from strategy to action

So how do leaders move from vision and strategy to action?  The answer may surprise you.  They make requests of others to help them achieve their goals.  It sounds simple.  Ask someone to do it and hey presto, everything is taken care of.  As we all know, things are not that simple.  The act of making a single request, let alone a variety of requests is full of potential pitfalls.  Here are some of the common problems I come across:

  • The request isn’t clear.  To the person making the request it is perfectly clear, but they leave out key details that lead to misunderstandings.
  • It is not clear who is going to do it.  This is a common problem in teams.  The leader tells the team what has to be done and assumes someone will step up and do it.
  • One-sided requests.  These are the same as giving orders.  We demand something without knowing if it can or will be done.  When no action occurs, the blame game arises.
  • Not making requests.  Sometimes the action seems so obvious that of course it will be done.  We think someone will take the initiative and are disappointed when nobody does.

How leaders avoid these pitfalls

I have seen millions of dollars wasted because of sloppy requests with one or more of the issues above.  The answer may seem quite elementary, but I assure you it is critical.  Effective leaders reduce the risk of breakdowns by making high quality requests.  They do it by bringing clarity to each element of a request:

  • The Requestor.  Who is making the request and who will judge satisfaction at completion
  • The Performer.  The person(s) accountable for completing it.
  • What is requested?  The work to be done.
  • Basis for assessing satisfaction at completion.  This is how the requestor will judge success, and if left undefined is often a big source of dissatisfaction on both sides at completion.
  • Time of completion.  This is simple but again, often not well defined
  • Why we are making a request.  This is how to generate motivation and commitment to complete the request.  From my experience it is usually absent.

Are these elements always required?  If you are happy with the results of the requests you are making then keep on doing what you are doing.  If not, I recommend taking the time to ensure clarity around each of these elements.

One other big problem I haven’t discussed is how to handle receiving a no.  I talk about it in this blog post.  The goal of making any request should be to get a trustworthy response, be that a yes or a no.

We are making requests everyday.  Are your requests leading to the desired results or are you a source of misunderstanding and frustration?