Over three decades of business consulting, no two terms have continued to surface more, given me more business projects, occupied more of my time and yet seem utterly devoid of any actual meaning than these: leader (or leadership) and strategy. Upon hearing them from many individuals and reading about them again and again, I’m often reminded of McBeth: these words are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
The buzzwords surface everywhere in business, sometimes in overwhelmingly disparate contexts. “This guy is a great leader,” “she really needs to learn to lead,” or “you need a leadership experience.” Another context can be even more career dangerous. “I’d like to promote him, but he isn’t strategic.” Or, in one of the most lucrative coaching jobs of my career: “She’s open to working with you, and she really needs to become more strategic.” Now retired, she was one of the most well-placed women in American business. In sum, these buzzwords are like love. Everyone knows they exist, but few can define them with precision. And sometimes, like failures in love, they can’t execute either.
If you’ve done your research and some thoughtful, critical analysis, you know that thinking strategically is typically confused with planning. Similarly, leader or leadership is a context-driven catch-all. What it means coming from one mouth is not what it means coming from another. And what it means in one firm is not what it means in another. Like Humpty-Dumpty, words mean just what any person chooses them to mean — neither more nor less.
And that means when training you’d better ...