Habits of Successful Strategic Business Owners

Hedley Lawson
Hedley Lawson | Global Managing Partner | Aligned Growth Partners, LLC

One thing has not changed over the years for business owners. While owners are the boss, they still spend too much time on the day-to-day operations of their business. Under those circumstances, when do they have time to become the strategic leader that their team and their customers need and expect?

If business owners find themselves resisting "being strategic" because it sounds like a corporate job or responsibility, you are not alone. Every business owner and manager that I have known and spoken to over the past three decades has said repeatedly that their job is to deal with what is directly in front of them on a day-to-day basis, because it always seems more urgent. The reality is if they do the day-to-day work without being strategic, they put their business at risk. While they concentrate on “firefighting,” they most assuredly will miss myriad opportunities, not to mention missing possible enterprise risks and emerging shortcomings of the business.

One reason the job of being a strategic leader is so tough is that not everyone really understands what it entails. Let’s be honest: It is hard to be a strategic leader if they do not know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.

As a business advisor to business owners and their management teams in a wide range of businesses, and having spoken and written on the subject of what is required of business owners and managers to become strategic leaders, here is a simple but profound list of habits that can help IERG as advisors to greatly assist their clients to achieve breakthrough success:

1. Anticipate. Most owners and managers focus their attention squarely on what’s directly in their line of sight, leaving their business vulnerable to competitors who may have other competitive advantages or strengths on which to capitalize. To anticipate well, here are several areas to consider: 

  • Look deeply and seriously for not-so-obvious or break-through opportunities on the periphery of the business offer and seek to broaden their value to customers
  • Expand their external networks to help them to better understand the competitive landscape and their customer needs, and newly identified and often ever-changing requirements

 2. Think Critically. Conventional wisdom often offers less risk and provides business owners and their teams with the security of “knowing what we do best.” Critical thinkers question everything and use the following mastery skills:

  • Learn to and then assess the “root cause” of any problems to get to the bottom of things
  • Challenge conventional thinking and “we’ve always done it this way” thinking, including your own
3. Interpret. Solid strategic thinking requires gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing information from many sources before developing a strategy and taking a decision. To become a better strategic thinker, business owners need to:
  • Look at all sources for relevant data and information, not simply standard metrics, and ensure their team understands and focuses on prescribed solutions
  • Question assumptions, especially those that lack facts and solid data, before analysis and decision-making
4. Decide. Often, leaders display “analysis paralysis.” To avoid this leadership shortcoming, assist your clients to identify ‘best practice’ processes and analytics. To do so, you should:
  • Review each area of their business that requires strategic versus transactional decisions and review the decision analytics they should use for basing decisions
  • Seek to identify other methods of data gathering and analysis that may allow them to fix focus on high value, high quality decision solutions
5. Align. Team consensus is frequently “agreeing with the boss” as opposed to the result of high value and sometimes spirited decision solutions. A strategic leader hires talent that, among other things, exhibits strong character, unwavering honesty and trust, and then engages the team fully even when views differ. To do so, they need to:
  • Create “One Agenda,” with the team focusing solidly on what is important and not their own importance to be right
  • Create a climate where even the toughest problems and difficult decisions are put squarely on the table, even when it may place a shortcoming directly and publicly in the team’s view
6. Learn. As your client companies and their owners grow and profit from becoming more strategic and less reactive, candor and a willingness to bring problems to the table will increase. This is highly valuable to the team’s ability to learn and grow. Make sure to:
  • Encourage and display honest, candid and non-pejorative behavior
  • Provide course correction where necessary quickly and as appropriate
  • Celebrate success and continue to focus on insightful lessons

It has been my experience that organizations and leaders that focus on these six strategic thinking imperatives have a higher probability of improving financial, operational, and organizational performance, build a culture of pride and success, and have a more agile, effective, engaged, and loyal team environment.

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