Why ELTs struggle to focus on strategy and how to overcome It

Executive Leadership Teams (ELTs) often find it challenging to shift gears, from day-to-day operations to long-term strategy. This brings a number of challenges, the most obvious ones is that the No.1 ELT responsibility is shaping strategy and culture. No-one else can take this job off their plates. Here are the main reasons behind this struggle and practical steps ELTs can take to overcome it.

First, many executives build their careers on operational expertise. Transitioning to a strategic role requires a different mindset, which can be outside their comfort zone. But letting go of an operations-focus mindset is difficult.

Trust and delegation plays a crucial role. Trusting the next levels to handle operations can be difficult, especially when past experiences with delegation were not positive. Or when executives have a flawed concept of what delegation means, i.e., dumping work vs mindful assignment of tasks or projects to grow and develop talent.

The pressure to deliver immediate results also pulls executives back into operational roles. The tyranny of the urgent overshadows the long-term strategic work. Even more so when a culture that values immediate problem-solving over system thinking impedes executives from focusing on long-term goals.

And then there is the issue of skill gaps: Strategic leadership requires different skills compared to operational management. Executives often don’t have sufficient strategic capabilities before they start their first executive role, which becomes glaringly obvious once they are in charge of leading strategy and culture.

How ELTs shift focus from operations to strategy

1. Build a strong middle management: Empower middle managers by clearly defining their roles and providing them with the authority to make decisions. This builds trust and reduces the need for executives to micromanage. Invest in leadership and management training for middle managers to ensure they have the skills needed to handle operational responsibilities effectively.

2. Provide strategic ELT development: Set up a series of ELT development trainings and workshops focused on strategy and executive leadership. Let experienced strategic thinkers in your ELT mentor other less experienced executives, helping them develop the necessary skills and mindset. Offer executive coaching to help ELT members accelerate their personal development and increase leadership effectiveness. 

3. Clarify role definitions and accountability: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities within the ELT. Ensure there is a clear distinction between strategic and operational roles. Set up systems to hold executives accountable for their strategic initiatives. Regular check-ins and progress reviews can help keep the focus on long-term goals.

4. Implement strategic management systems: Develop robust systems for monitoring and reporting on strategic initiatives, to give them the attention they need. Use modern tools to boost collaboration on strategy across the organization and give the ELT proper resources at hand to handle the leg work (e.g. strategy PMO).

These four areas help ELTs transition to a more strategic focus, allowing for more effective leadership and organizational growth. Reach out to discuss how we can develop your ELT into a functioning high-performance team, driving strategy and culture. 

Main image by BeeZee Vision via unsplash