I have interviewed many farm and agribusiness CEOs over the years about strategy. Mostly, they talk in venues of processes and functional plans. When I interview women CEOs about strategy, however, they speak differently. They talk about hard decisions they have faced regarding the farm business, about whether to stay the course or try to reinvent themselves. Women often feel more responsible for their strategies because they feel responsible to their companies and the people working for them.
What is strategy? How do you become more strategic? No single model defines a great strategist, but it is definitely someone more than an operator who “keeps the trains running.” Strategy typically involves the ability to see the future and create a vision for the business that drives employees and customers forward.
Cynthia Montgomery, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, describes the strategist’s job as determining what the company’s identity will be, why it will matter, and to whom. “Just saying why you are different isn’t enough if you’re not different in a way that matters to a customer. Think of the distinction Peter Drucker draws between doing things right and doing the right thing. Strategy is about doing the right thing,” Montgomery notes.
Why women make good strategists. Winning strategies are often those designed and developed by the people who really know their business, its markets and competitors. A clear strategic direction can be understood at all levels in an organization, from the boardroom to the shop-floor, if simple to use tools are used.
One reason women tend to make good strategists is because they are typically strong communicators. Whether communicating with employees, co-workers or business partners, an open dialogue stream allows for clarity in executing the vision or plan for the business. Strategic capability requires engaging others and then articulating plans for the future and what it means for the company. Great strategists invite discussion and challenges to their assumptions. They aim to build an environment of brainstorming.
A simple way to improve your strategic skills is to spend time strong women strategists. Watch how they bring others into the dialogue. Schedule a lunch date and ask them steps for building strong strategy and company alignment.
No business loses by having better strategy.