Strategy Alive™ – A 7-Step Strategic Map To Success

StrategyaliveA Way Forward 

Maps and compasses are important when traversing unfamiliar terrain and entering into new territory. The same is true in business. Maps are still helpful in a world that is filled with so many unknowns and daily market adaptations. Having clear strategic direction that is both nimble and market sensitive is crucial to bringing vision and resource alignment and mission/cause fulfillment. Let me offer my version of a simple 7-step strategic mapping process that generates innovative solutions to move an organization, large or small, forward.

Strategy Alive™ consists of seven steps: Examine. Explore. Extract. Establish. Execute. Evaluate. Excite. Here’s how this open-ended strategic process works:

  1. Examine

First, we take time to examine the past in order to identify lessons learned. Hindsight is always a great teacher. So is data. This enables us to capture, catalog, and carry insights into the present. Strategic thinkers carve out lessons learned from past experience and brings those findings forward into the future.

  1. Explore

Next, the model focuses its attention on the current environment in, outside of, and around the organization. We ask honest questions, explore different factors, emerging trends and technologies, uncertainties, customer interests, needs and values, and consider future possibilities. This process enables us to get an accurate picture of the current realities, strengths, challenges, threats, and opportunities that exist inside and outside an organization and leverages.

  1. Extract

We look at the pool of potential possibilities that we’ve generated and extract the unique core capabilities, strengths, and differentiators that are embedded within an organization, brand, product or service. We identify, prioritize and leverage those opportunities that have the highest probability of success, ones which will generate the largest return on investment, and opportunities which will fulfill our mission and/or cause and make the world a better place.

  1. Establish

Next, we establish an action plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) that align all resources (people, financial, property, brand, etc.) and energies with the central purpose and the guiding principles of the organization (mission, vision, values).

  1. Execute

A carefully constructed (yet flexible) plan of execution is crafted, communicated, and implemented with excellence. (Scenario plans are also created with the high probability of using some or all of them depending upon market fluctuation, market clarity, new opportunities that have emerged, unknowns becoming known, etc.)

  1. Evaluate

We honestly evaluate results with clear metrics that measure progress. Success factors are identified. Unforeseen challenges are addressed. People are held accountable. Tweaks, changes and courageous realignments, recalibrations, and resource reallocations are made when and where necessary.

  1. Excite

Finally, the Strategy Alive loop is completed as we excite others by celebrating the small wins and sharing the credit to those who have earned it all throughout the process. Good leaders celebrate the people and the process of doing good and hared work together as much as they do reaching the end result. Leading strategic change often has more to do with the relational side of the equation that we can ever imagine.

Strategy Alive Map

This strategy map serves as a kind of checklist to help maneuver our way through the problem-solving maze of life and business in a sequential and linear fashion. It takes things from the world of the conceptual and converts them to the realm of the concrete. The complex becomes simple. Enigmas can be unraveled.

Following a strategy map gives us a common language to communicate with others in our organization. It helps identify root problems. It helps us learn from the past. It uncovers potential gaps in our thinking. It gathers relevant information that informs. It paints a compelling picture of our true strengths and internal attributes. Strategy maps not only guide us, but they aid us in generating new insights and sparking creative solutions.

An Ongoing Process

One of the most overlooked aspects to the success of any strategic process being implemented is to ensure that it doesn’t become perceived as a “one-time-event” and then shelved. For this iterative process to achieve its intended aim, and in order to help people and/or organizations reach full potential, these life-affirming processes must become an ongoing practice.

Change is Permanent

Finally, a strategy map provides a clear and detailed set of “next-steps” to aid us as we plan for the future and navigate into uncharted waters. Heraclitus was right when he said, “The only thing permanent in life is change.” Our global economy has forever changed. Every organization needs women and men who can help course them into new frontiers of innovation and viability. Organizations, teams (and people) that are forward-thinking, healthy and strategic-minded, live with intentionality. They welcome people, practices, processes, and catalytic mechanisms that help them expand their core capacity and achieve their full potential. That’s why strategy is alive!

Servantology: The Periodic Elements of Trusted Leadership

Servantology_Chris_Meade_LeadershipAlive_copyright 2016

Servant Leadership

During the last two decades, there has been an explosion of interest in the philosophy and practices of “Servant Leadership.” Many business thought-leaders believe that Servant Leadership is the new leadership model for the 21st century. This is especially true in light of the fact that the American workforce is radically changing and by 2025 over 65% of all workers in the U.S. will consist of the Millennial generation who view leadership from a new perspective.

It’s Not About You

Harvard Business Review recently stated, “The idea of Servant Leadership is a great place for new managers to start…The reason is simple. When you have a servant mentality, it’s not about you. Removing self-interest and personal glory from your motivation on the job is the single most important thing you can do to inspire trust. When you focus first on the success of your organization and your team, it comes through clearly.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.” Authentic servant leadership is always for the benefit of others and not the leader.

Putting Others First

Servant Leadership has its roots in the groundbreaking work of former AT&T executive, Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term almost 35 years ago. Servant Leadership emphasizes serving others, including employees, customers and the community. The Greenleaf Institute asserts that “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just, compassionate and caring world.”

Servants First

The principles contained in the Servant Leadership model are grounded in the notion that leaders are servants first. The desire to lead others surfaces out of a motivation to serve others. Respected leadership is about putting the legitimate needs, goals, and priorities of the followers and constituents first. Ken Blanchard said, “Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you, you work for them.”

Leadership Is Built Upon Character

True leaders know that leadership is not about them; it’s about others. That’s one reason why leadership has more to do with character than management skills. Servant Leadership is not about exalting yourself, but lifting others up. It emanates first from a desire to serve others. That’s why Robert K. Greenleaf said “good leaders must first become good servants.”

A New Kind of Leadership

James Hunter defines servant leadership as “…the skill of influencing people within a specific context to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good, with character that inspires confidence.” Bottom line: The best leaders use influence instead of intimidation to achieve results. They build trusted relationships that motivate followers. They have solid character that enables them to sustain a life of service and they genuinely care about their coworkers and community at large. They want things for people and not just from them. Servant leadership: A new kind of leader for a new kind of world.


Overcoming The Pitfall of One-Dimensional Thinking

Getting Beyond The First Right Answer

Leaders who are open to new perspectives are often able to arrive at better and more complete solutions to the problems they encounter in life and work. Yes, the answers to some questions are black and white, yes and no, plain and simple. But for many other questions, quick fixes, memorized sound byte responses, and one-dimensional conclusions don’t always fix systemic and multi-layered issues and problems. Bottom line: Multi-dimensional problems can’t be solved long-term with one-dimensional solutions.

One-Dimensional thinking

As a kid, I remember when I thought I had the world of one-dimension­al mathematics figured out. Pat answers to my multiplication and division flash cards seemed manageable: memorize the sequence and regurgitate your answer, fast and painlessly. Then a teacher introduced me to the world of math word problems. She added a whole new dimension of complexity to my very small world.

Pyramd copyWhole Picture, Whole Solution

Life is more like a word problem than it is a flash card with an easy and predicable answer. Sometimes arriving at “the whole truth” about something is being able to look at something from a different angle. Many times a correct answer has more than one component or side to it. One of the benefits of a high-functioning team is that it helps us get beyond one-dimensional thinking and arriving at one-dimensional conclusions. Sometimes answers are multi-dimensional. They have several layers of complexity or sides to them. One side isn’t the “whole truth.” Like the distinct sides of a pyramid, truth, or what is correct, is sometimes all of the sides at once. It’s when we are able to step back and see the whole picture that a whole solution can be reached. Working in the context of community helps generate and sug­gest whole solutions.

Multi-Dimensional Challenges Need Multi-Dimensional Solutions

Wise people do their best to suspend making a final judgment about something or someone until they have the full story. Usually, the pieces don’t all show up at the same moment. As we work together as a team we are empowered to see multiple sides to an issue. It’s not that any one side is wrong; it’s just that it’s an incomplete picture. We need to be able to understand, hear, or see all of the sides in order to make our best and full decision. That’s why multi-dimensional problems can’t be solved long-term with one-dimensional solutions.

Arriving at the Whole Truth or Solution

As kids when we got in trouble as a pack of brothers, we were brought in one by one to tell our dad our side of the story. Each brother brought their own version and pleaded their case! Each brother’s story was usually different. Each of us told the truth according to our interpretation of the particular event. After my dad had heard all four sides of the story, he would then make a multi-dimensional decision, which usually meant that all four of us got a spanking! Each brother was partially right, and some more right than others, but all the brothers had an element of truth to their side. My dad needed to see the “complete picture” before he could discern the “whole truth.”

Multiple Voices and Diverse Perspectives

Not only is this principle dependable in resolving complex family issues, but it’s true in the world of business and leadership, too. If we focus on only one portion of the equation, we become lopsided and one-dimensional. The whole truth is all parts working in concert together. Much like that of a “pyramid” the answer is not one side, but rather all of the sides coming together as one complete object or picture. Truth copyToo often, we carve life up into discrete slices and categories and fail to see the situation in its completeness. Therefore, we arrive at incomplete solutions because our diagnosis was depth-less, cursory and one-dimensional. To be a leader that consistency arrives at the “whole truth” in our decision-making, we often will need to put ourselves around multiple voices and diverse perspectives. This experience will aid us in getting our heads around the different sides of the issues so we can discovery the best multi-dimensional solution.

Keeping An Openness Toward Others

The world is our school. Problems are our curriculum. People are our teachers. That’s why staying open to people aids us in generating valuable and multiple solutions to complex situations. If we stay closed off to others, we reduce life to a kind of one-dimensional existence, a life of “Me.” (That thought should actually scare us.) So let me ask you: Are you faced with a business, leadership or personal problem that actually is multi-dimensional, and you or others have unintentionally tried to solve it with a one-dimensional solution? If so, let me encourage you to step back and assess all the sides of the pyramid before generating a solution. Enlist some new sets of eyes to help you see. My hunch is that if you do, you’ll have a better right answer than when you started.

We’re Wired For Community

Interdependence Not Independence

One of the secrets for a satisfying life and a high performing work team is not independence, nor is it over-dependence on others, it is interdependence. The software of our souls is coded with a need to connect with others and experience genuine community, not just in our personal lives, but in our work lives, too. People are wired for community. We’re made this way; it’s in our DNA. Of course, it was the Industrial Revolution that helped turn workers into cogs without soul. But Management 2.0 is changing that forever. A new movement is brewing. People crave relationships so much that many will settle for artificial or dysfunctional ones if it means not having relationship at all.

Wilson_Community_LeadershipAliveWe Need Other People

I’m reminded of the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks…and of course, Wilson. If you remember, one of the most gripping scenes in the movie is when Tom Hanks finally escapes from the island and sails out into the ocean. During his sailing ordeal, Wilson, the volleyball, gets separated from the raft. Tom Hanks cries out to Wilson and asks him to forgive him for letting him get away. As dysfunctional as it is, it’s a clear picture of how badly people really do need others and how we all long to be part of a genuine community pursuing something meaningful. When organizations understand this important need in people, building teams and cultivating community becomes an inseparable part of their mission and definition of success. Profit alone is no longer the only bottom line that matters.

Work Teams: The New Normal

We grow and work best in the context of genuine community. Because most industries are moving away from work that is being done solo and shifting to work that’s done in some form of group or team, being able to work well on a team and/or develop a team is a valuable skill-set in the new economy. Bringing out the best in others, working well on projects in groups, learning how to collaborate and create synergy among colleagues, and solving problems alongside others is fast becoming the new normal.

The Benefits of Community

Having strong people skills is a valuable asset. Cultivating a culture where people sharpen and bring out the best in each other is the dream of almost every organization. Honestly speaking, this isn’t always the norm in many organizations. But I’m convinced we can all grow and improve in developing our team-building abilities just like any other skill…if we want to. As we do, this newly honed ability will set us apart from the average leader and manager. When we desire to serve people and bring out the best in them, the best will be brought out in us, too.

Iron Sharpeners: Team-Building in the New Economy

Team Building

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Developing your potential is important. It’s a foundational building block of success. Developing the best in someone else is even more impressive. But developing the potential and capacity of a team of people really raises the bar. It sets leaders apart in this new economy. Developing a team is a prized skill and makes a huge difference in the lives of others.

Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Team-builders or “Iron-Sharpeners,” as I like to call them, strive to win championships, not just games. They are convinced that they can be more, do more, and give more with the help of others. If they don’t have a formal team, then they forge outside alliances with others that can help them. They are convinced that the days of the go-it-alone, Marlboro-Man-solo-leader is over.

Iron-Sharpeners align and utilize the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal.

Better Together

Having the right perspective on the inside affects how you lead on the outside. Iron-Sharpeners are convinced that we are better together than we are alone or off in silos working and minding our own business.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Two people are better than one because they get more done by working together. If one person falls, another can reach out and help, but people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble…A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer, and three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

The Three-Fold Cord

Working together as a team is likened to the collective strength of cords being braided together. Collectively, they are stronger when they are twisted and intertwined with each other. Not only are we better together, but we’re also made by our Creator to be in healthy community with other people. This includes our work life.

The Marlboro Man Mentality

Rugged Individualism Chris Meade LeadershipAlive.comThis idea of community and team is actually counter to what many people in our society think. Our culture applauds rugged individualism. And of course, there is something admirable about it. Our nation was founded with a pioneering and courageous spirit. We love old Western’s that glamorize the go-it-alone, tough cowboy. But we’ve all seen or heard of how something good in an extreme form can end up going south. Radical individualism that creates isolation in love, life, and work is unhealthy. We forget that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Choosing to go it alone, and taking the position that we don’t need anybody else is not necessarily a sign of confidence but of hubris, insecurity, and fear. Sometimes the Marlboro Man mentality works against us and can take us right over the cliffs.

Sharpening Your Blade

In my next post, I’ll explore some  practical ways we can sharpen one another, “like iron sharpens  iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened knife blades. But for now, let me end with two questions to consider:

(1) Who are you sharpening? Remember, this is a prized skill-set to possess and it will set you a part in your organization as you help others grow.

(2) Who is sharpening you? All world class athletes have coaches. Who is your coach for this season and what is your training regimen and rhythm you have committed to? Why? Because what we pay attention to gets better.

Sharpening One Another Toward Greatness

Iron Sharpeners

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Ancient Proverb

Financially Alive Chris MeadeIron-Sharpeners are leaders and team-builders that align, utilize and sharpen the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal. Iron-Sharpeners bring out the best in others. There are many ways to do this.

Lessons From the Ancients

Here is my list of some practical ways we can “sharpen” one another, “like iron sharpens iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened blades. We all know that a dull-edged blade can actually do more harm than good. When a blade is dull, it takes more force to use and it’s harder to control. All knives and bladed tools have a tendency to get dull with use over time. Edges wear off and chips occur. The ancient sharpening process of a sword, knife, or tool would usually include three steps:

  1. Pound out the iron
  2. Use an iron file or a piece of iron ore to rub out the defects and small chips on the side of the blade or tool
  3. Rub and polish the side of the blade in order to lift the edge so it will become as sharp as a (This is where the old expression, “He’s lost his edge” comes from.)

Keeping Your Edge

We all lose our edge just through the normal process of usage. We can all get rusty and become dull. Just like a knife or bladed tool needs friction to bring out its full potential, we too need to be buffed and polished by others so our capacity can increase and our character can expand. People who value the sharpening process willingly place themselves in environments where this calibrating process can happen in their own lives. They know that just as blades can’t restore themselves, they can’t sharpen themselves to full potential without the help of others. People need other people.

Staying Sharp (and Sharpening Others)

Here are 10 practical suggestions on how to sharpen people and bring the best out of them.

  1. Show genuine care for people. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell.
  2. Provide clear expectations. People need to know where they stand at all times, what’s good, and what needs improvement.
  3. Engage in regular honest conversations. Accountability, truth-telling, crucial conversations, confronting difficult issues; be hard on issues and soft on people.
  4. Praise in public and correct in private. Brag publicly on the positive, but correct people behind closed doors so you don’t speak shame and guilt into their future.
  5. Discover and develop people’s strengths and passions. When you do you unlock their potential.
  6. Build genuine relationships.  Conversation creates relationship, and trust is built upon it.
  7. Share the credit. Amazing what gets done when no one hogs the credit, and how something so simple motivates everyone.
  8. Speak vision and possibility into people. Believe that seeds of greatness are in every person on your team; use your influence to build others up.
  9. Share leadership. Look for opportunities to stretch and advance others upward; be ambitious for the success of one another.
  10. Have fun along the way. Fun, laughter and humor is the shortest distance between two people. – Victor Borge

Iron-sharpening is a 21st century skill that unlocks wealth creation in all of its forms (financial, relational, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, organizational, personal, etc.). Iron-Sharpeners polish others so they have an opportunity to grow, learn, share, expand, and transform. Hearts are encouraged. Minds enlightened. Spirits inspired. Leaders and supervisors who can help sharpen others know the benefits of two blades rubbing together. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

A Sense of Community Strengthens the Heart

Redwood_LeadershipAliveWhen a work team has been sharpened as “iron sharpens iron,” hearts are strengthened. Experiencing community dispels discouragement and fatigue among members. Like the old Kenyan proverb says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” One of the benefits of community is the encouragement, strength, and support that are available to each person when they are inter-connected with each other.

Redwoods that grow in Northern California are known to reach almost 350 feet tall. But that’s not what’s amazing. It’s the roots––they are only six to 12 feet deep and they spread out horizontally 50 to 80 feet on each side of the tree! The reason the giant redwoods don’t fall over in stormy weather is that their root systems are intertwined with each other. The roots from other surrounding trees actually support the lone redwood swaying in the wind. It’s the grove of trees and the roots of the surrounding redwoods that support the individual trees. In times of stress, they can lean on the others. It’s a beautiful picture of strength in the midst of community.

The same is true in our lives. As we are able to lean on one another in times of difficulty, fatigue, and discouragement, we’re strengthened and we’re better because of it. Cultivating a work team culture that genuinely cares for, supports, and encourages its members will prosper. Iron-Sharpeners know this and do their best to build work cultures that provide this for their members. It’s not fake or cheesy. It’s genuine to the core, and people at work come alive. Everyone wins: the team, the members, the leaders, the company, the customers, and the bottom line.