Strategy Comes From the Top, but Execution Comes From the Bottom

The Role of Strategic Leadership

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? A leader sets the direction and expectations for a group of people. A manager is responsible for coordinating the actions of the group. These are two distinct roles that are often combined in companies. This causes leadership and management to regularly be conflated, creating confusion between the two roles in organizations. Managers are usually the people that get promoted to higher tiers of leadership without ever having developed genuine leadership skills. So they continue to rely on their managerial experience as they try to lead larger teams, divisions, and business units. This creates the situation where business leaders behave like managers, getting involved in the weeds of day-to-day operations and losing sight of the company’s strategic direction. They spend their time determining what actions need to be taken and assigning tasks for teams and employees. All the decision-making and problem-solving is pulled away from front-line workers and kept in the firm grip of the “leaders”. That is not leadership.

Leadership should focus on the collective direction of the company. Leaders should define the business outcomes they want to achieve. They should set cultural and strategic guardrails to keep the organization unified and coherent. But they should not spend their time making every decision and managing employees like machines in a factory. 

So what is meant when it is said “Strategy comes from the top?” After all, strategy can include many different components including detailed tactics and specific activities. To be clear, the role of strategic leadership is to:

1 – Develop a set of assumptions and conclusions that come from Strategic Analysis.

2 – Create Strategic Focus & Outcomes that set the expectations for company success.

The Role of Company Employees

One of the amazing differences between humans and machines is that humans have an incredible ability to adapt and learn, while machines are limited to performing the tasks they were programmed to do. Yet, so many companies treat employees like machines. They are trained to do a particular function and they are given processes to follow. There is very little expectation or tolerance for employees to step outside of those parameters. In essence, they yield many of their human qualities of creativity and ingenuity to replace them with machine qualities like consistency and predictability. Of course, there are certainly job functions that demand this situation, particularly when it comes to concerns of safety. However, this mindset has penetrated many other business functions unnecessarily such as sales, marketing, product development, supply chain, human resources, administration, customer service, and many others.