Tips for new leaders on strategic planning

Of all the things common to executive leadership, the objective, process and value of strategic planning are among the most difficult to comprehend.

There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the least obvious and most significant reason is that strategic plans look too much like plans. Early in our careers, when we see a strategic plan that we often didn’t have a stake in creating, it appears as a set of goals someone else made that we have to do the work to fulfill.

Moreover, well-intentioned yet clunky planning processes that we did get to participate in often leave us feeling like characters in a plot to create the “illusion in input” on the direction leadership had already decided to go before they asked our opinion. We’re left feeling used and cynical.

These all-too-common impressions of the strategic planning process create numerous mental blocks in the minds of developing executives. Resistance to strategic planning is a typical response of new CEOs.

They’re worried about their staff, board and the plan itself going off the rails. So, in an attempt to control the outcome, they constrict the process or exclude critical stakeholders to the detriment of the organization and their own personal brands.

More than once, I’ve seen nonprofit CEOs lose the support of their boards and eventually their jobs because they failed to approach strategic planning properly. If you’re uneasy about strategic planning, this advice is for you.

The real objective of strategic planning isn’t the achievement of the plan, it’s about finding broad convergence among stakeholders through the process. Read that sentence five times.

The plan is simply a representation of the broadest possible sampling of stakeholders’ thoughts on who the organization is and what it should do. It is a journey toward collective alignment. Here’s why that should matter to you as a leader.

Everyone involved with your organization shares common and divergent views on its mission and purpose. Artful, well-constructed strategic planning processes will give you the best possible sense of the breadth of those views. It will define a safe path forward based upon the best collective intelligence around you. It shows stakeholders you care about their views and excites them about the future.

You want this. You want to know what causes people’s eyes to light up or causes them to shut down. You want to know that the direction of the organization resonates with as many people as possible. It isn’t a gotcha game to give you goals you can’t achieve. It’s a way the organization and you can both win.

A good strategic planning consultant should be able to articulate how their process will capture collective intelligence and achieve organization alignment. They should build guardrails into the process and guide you in a way that isn’t just safe for you as the leader but beneficial to the organization and your career.

Being great at leading strategic planning is perhaps the highest expression of artful leadership. So don’t run from it. Leave your fears behind and dive in! 

Daniel Flowers is President and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank

Daniel Flowers

President and CEO


Connect On Social Media