Become a Tactical and Strategic CEO

Let me ask you this: how can you create a sustainable growth business that keeps cranking out an amazing product or service every year, that people will keep running over their grandmothers on Black Friday to get?

Keep raising your game every day.

Keep reaching for the next rung on the ladder.

Never stop climbing.

I know what some of you are saying. “But Bill, you’ve got me maxing out. My arms aren’t long enough to reach that next rung!”

I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath, but you can’t have a self-defeating attitude or you may as well close up shop and go work for somebody else!

You’ve got to think bigger than what the average person thinks is possible. The first thing you should do is adopt a trait that all the great CEOs exhibit and become skilled at making both strategic and tactical decisions. What’s the difference?

Tactical leadership is doing things right.

Strategic leadership is doing the right things.

I know you must be doing a lot of things right tactically to get your startup off the ground. Great job, but now it’s time to think about your long-term strategy. You can’t get behind the curve on anything.

The greatest CEOs are visionaries, not just one-trick ponies; they’re always plotting their company’s next big move. Bold innovators are rewarded in this “drone-eat-dog” world, so if you see a way to improve your business, you’d better have the vision and the guts to pull the trigger, even if the naysayers say it can’t be done.

You will also be better able to execute. Any coach will tell you that. Don’t forget that, while you’re gazing into your crystal ball, you also have to keep operating your business, and that’s where your tactical leadership comes into play. Your goal should be to kick so much butt that your competition isn’t even thinking about the future. Why? They’re too busy trying to keep up with all the stuff you’re doing right now.

See how one skill plays into the other? Strategy-tactics is the yin-yang of corporate leadership. Having the ability to do both extremely well is mental multitasking of the highest degree. It’s all about having one foot in the now and one foot in the future.

Experience Plus Wisdom Equals Strategy

If you’re like me, it may take some time to learn to be a great strategic leader. Like a lot of fresh-faced entrepreneurs, I was a very good tactical manager when I was young. In my early years at Wilmar, I got things done. You want a catalogue out? Boom, boom, boom! I was going to build you a catalogue.

But I was so inexperienced, I didn’t necessarily have a robust vision for the future. Looking back, I didn’t know a lot of things, but I made up for my shortcomings with energy, effort, and enthusiasm. My motto was, “Grrr, get out of the way!” And it worked in those early years—but I couldn’t sustain it and expect to remain successful.

So I worked on becoming a more strategic leader. How?

Let’s go back to the catalogue example. I created this amazing catalogue (which became our signature calling card) literally by hand, because that’s the way you did it back then. I wanted it to be perfect, but didn’t think about the fact that I had to recreate that sucker every year. I had built a blueprint that was successful, but wasn’t sustainable.

So I formed a strategy for making the catalogues.

First, I bought a Mac and started creating them on PageMaker. Then, the moment the company could afford it, I delegated them tactically, but never strategically. I had other employees create the catalogues, but everything that went in them still crossed my desk. I had precise rules for formatting and content, as well as an open-door policy, so I managed the process all along the way.

I didn’t wait for the entire 700-page catalogue to be completed; I oversaw it incrementally a few pages at a time so I could correct problems and make small changes. See what I’m talking about? If you learn how to manage properly, you can be a delegating hands-off strategic leader while also keeping your hands on the tactical stuff.

That’s just one example of how you have to use both sides of your brain when leading a company in the future. It’s vital that you learn to apply a strategic-tactical mindset to every part of your company, be it your team, your operations, your R&D, your marketing, your sales, your technology, or your customer service.

The bottom line is that every successful CEO is a good tactician, but if you aren’t being smart about how you lead your business into tomorrow, you may look up one day and realize you’re building bicycles in a world full of hoverboards!

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