An organization’s leadership has an important role to play in setting its strategic vision, but all too often leaders get “stuck in the weeds,” drowning in the tactical details of a project or problem and losing track of the strategic role they need to play. On the flip side, some leaders are able to cast a big picture vision but struggle to bring their ideas through to implementation. Having strategy alone is like having a map with no method of transportation, while focusing only on tactics is like having a car but no idea how to get to where you’re going. Both situations create challenges.
As fundraisers, we know that the strategic allows us to craft compelling giving opportunities, inspire donors and prospects, and demonstrate the big-picture impact of our organizations. But the tactical keeps us focused on scheduling meetings, coordinating events, and executing the appropriate follow-up. There is a need for both strategic and tactical approaches and skill sets. So how do we balance these to create successful outcomes?
As consultants, we often work very closely with leaders to augment their own skills and work preferences to ensure success. We seek to help leaders elevate their thinking to the appropriate strategic level, rather than getting derailed in the details; or we help them create and manage appropriate plans and action items to bring ideas to implementation. Below are a few practical tips to find the DRIVE to reconcile these two mindsets.
DESIGN meaningful project plans and action items. If you struggle to bring big-picture ideas to reality, try creating detailed action plans for an upcoming project. Taking the time at the outset to outline key milestones and activities can save effort later by helping you to anticipate challenges, spot issues, and plan for contingencies.
RESTRUCTURE your schedule away from the daily to-dos. If you’re finding you’re too focused on details, take some time away from your typical day. Carving out a day a month or a couple of hours a week may not seem easy, but it will pay off. In that time away, reflect on questions such as: Why do I do what I do? How is my organization changing the world? Who is one person I know we have helped, and where are they now? How can we help even more people like that?
INSPIRE your team based on their (and your) strengths. Abraham Lincoln famously built a ‘Team of Rivals’ to bring together competing political interests. While we wouldn’t suggest you hire rivals and create a contentious team, you should use strengths-based leadership to focus on your strengths while helping your team focus on theirs. (Several tools exist to help identify and leverage these team strengths, such as Talent Q, a psychometric screening Graham-Pelton is proud to offer.)
VALUE the opinions of your trusted advisors. Whether a colleague, a mentor, or a consultant, having someone you can talk with openly about your challenges and whose insights and advice you value can help you address and overcome challenges as you seek to balance both the necessary tactical and strategic components of your leadership role.
END all meetings with actionable next steps. Whether the meeting is strategically focused or tactically detailed, end all meetings and project conversations with a clear recap of what needs to be done and who is responsible. This has clear implications for those high-level thinkers who have trouble bringing their ideas to reality, but it is also important for the detail focused as a way to delegate and create accountability.
To help ensure the success of your team, remember to balance strategy and tactics in these ways so that your daily actions align with and further your larger purpose or mission. Always keep one eye on the map and one eye on the road!
Michael DeCristofaro is a Senior Consultant at Graham-Pelton.