I’ve spent 25 years advising Presidents & CEOs of small, medium-sized and large companies around the world as a corporate strategist. The good news is that strategists are often accepted as equals to their clients, the work is enriching and satisfying if not somewhat exhausting and the clarity such projects bring to senior leadership can be powerful.
The bad news I’ve discovered over the years is that in the wrong hands these sort of projects are more often than not ineffectual in the long-run. In fact, I’ve actually seen several high-ranking CEOs lose their jobs after a thorough vetting by a McKinsey or like-minded strategy consulting company. Not infrequently a strategy review even results in a decline in performance even if the leader’s neck is saved, at least in the short term.
The sad truth is too often a CEO who hires an outside strategist to tell his or her team what to do is sorely lacking in some very basic skill sets. (I’m also convinced that some CEOs with organizations infested by strategy consultants are just plain tired and are performing a bizarre 21st century version of ritual career suicide.)
It’s one thing to hire an expert to provide insight and guidance on developments when a business is confronted with major change – and what industry isn’t going through deep and fundamental transformation these days? It’s another to relinquish all responsibility for direction and goal setting, thinking that at some point you’ll rein it all in, take responsibility for the results and manage the change. In many cases, the monster is already out of the bag and impossible to grab hold of again.
Being a leader requires a stomach for uncertainty and knowing when to delegate and when to keep activities firmly under your control. So, next time you ponder hiring an outside consultant to develop your strategy, think first about working on your leadership capabilities. Once you’re master of those, then go ahead and hire a strategist…if you still want to. The value you get from the exercise will be that much greater and you might actually go on to new heights, success and personal and professional fulfillment.