The Leaders Notebook

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WSJ CEO’s on Strategy and Execution – “Both/And” not “Either/Or”

May 13th, 2009 · No Comments · Great Questions, Leadership, Literature and Myth, Thoughts on Life and Leadership

The Wall Street Journal has a Management section online which includes regular video and opinion from their panel of 100 CEO’s.  Recently, they asked their panel whether strategy or execution was the more important focus for a CEO.  While a few took sides, most indicated that thee two were inextricably linked and parts of a larger whole.

If you are a WSJ online subscriber, you can see the entire article here.  If not, here is an excerpt:

The Journal posed the question to members of its CEO Council, a group of 100 top CEOs first convened in November. We asked: “There’s a philosophical debate going on in academic management circles these days about whether strategy or execution is the more important focus for a CEO. Do you have a view?”

Many CEOs rejected the question as a false choice. Such was the view of Douglas Foshee, CEO of El Paso Corp., a natural gas provider and pipeline company: “While it might be an interesting philosophical debate, out here in the real world it isn’t an either/or proposition, nor do I think a Board should be willing to put someone in the position of CEO that can’t do both with equal skill,” he wrote in an email. “It simply is required for the job that you are able to craft a strategy to ensure the long term success and differentiation of the enterprise, and then successfully execute that strategy.”

One of the most useful questions I find myself asking with clients is whether something that they have polarized is truly and either/ or decision.  Popular literature and media pictures of leadership often make it look like it is a “this not that” kind of thing.  Consider the trend in recent literature on leadership that posits leadership as the noble endeavor of enrolling others and providing them a compelling vision while leaving the pesky details of execution to managers.  Leadership requires a balance of the two.  The real question is not about task or relationship, but about how a leader addresses their use.

Much like the eastern Yin and Yang, leadership is both relationship and task – both strategy and execution.  Many of my clients have found it a useful exercise to look at where else they are polarized into a either/ or decision that might be better served with a both/ and solution.

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