leads to confident rest while its adversaries toil.


    is  both an art and science. Good strategy will result from neither independently.


    can be overlooked when resources are abundant and margins for error are wide. But when environments are competitive, strategy separates those who survive from those who perish.


    kills organizations. It’s people drown in an ocean of activities whose undertow moves faster than it’s the strongest swimmer.


    organizes and induces a resonant oscillation that knocks down every obstacle, scales every wall and wins every battle.


    never  tires. It only expends critical energy and resources on the highest value activities.
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If you are a leader, you have developed “strategic plans”, “vision statements” or even “critical action plans”, so I don’t need to explain to you what they are. You are well aware that they are essential to guiding organizations and accomplishing important things. But since you’ve also been in organizations as a “follower” you understand that the implementation of a leader’s plans and the manifestation of his vision statements can drain tremendous organizational energy and burn up scarce resources.

Leaders often “unveil” their “idea-masterpieces” with energetic fanfare. They believe their plans will be received like an invitation to a sunny, Hawaiian beach. But, their beach spills into the operation’s frontline gears and the sand grinds them to a laborious halt. Ironically, we have all experienced this as “followers”. Yet as leaders, we think our vision will be different. We believe it will be received by the open, willing arms of our front-line leaders and associates…  And the dysfunctional cycle begins to grind.

Often good leadership practices are relatively simple, yet they elude the vast majority of leaders. This is common because leaders possess an egocentrism which makes them vulnerable to a sort of self-delusion. They believe that what their organization really needs is more “thinking like them” and more people “doing like them”. If you and I are honest with ourselves, we will admit that this thought creeps into our minds ALL of the time. We ask silently (of our subordinates), “Why did they think that was a good idea?” “Why can’t they just solve that problem on their own without requiring my intervention?” “Why do we need to train our people how to be productive… how to talk to customers… how to develop the right priorities?” And then delusion takes hold, “I will just prescribe the way to “think” and the way to “do”, in a statement, a vision or a plan”… And the strategic-leadership dysfunction grinds on

This cycle arises because most architects-of-direction do not understand the ABC’s of strategic-leadership. Most leaders begin with the question, “how do I get my organization to desire results and execute actions like I would, if I were a cog in the organizational gears?” This question exposes the common leadership vulnerability that serves to obscure the vision of most leaders. They believe (or at least cannot divorce themselves from the idea that) their organizational aspirations should be at the centerof their leadership. And yet, the overwhelming truth is that when a leader’s aspirations take center stage, sub-optimization always lurks in the wings.

Now the antidote for this is simple, yet virtually every leader bypasses it in the course of planning or strategy development, out of ignorance or arrogance.

The centerpiece of strategic focus ought to be changing Attitudes, Behaviors, and Capabilities, the ABC’s. No matter the leader’s strategic aspiration, she must ask the question, “if we were to achieve this vision I have for the organization; 1) Can I measure the degree to which Attitudes MUST change? 2) Can I describe the change in Behavior that MUST take place? 3) Can I define how the manifestation of this statement MUST lead to demonstrably improved Capabilities?

The vaccine for a leader’s natural inclination is to insure the central focus of change is not her high-flying aspirations, but the sober probability that a tangible, meaningful change will occur.

Let’s say you’re thinking about a strategic plank, “become THE premier sales organization”. Almost all of the time, leaders will begin to think about actions which (they assume) will lead to a better sales organization (if they were on the front-line)… better sales training… elevating sales targets… allocating more trade or marketing resources  … hiring more talented sales associates (like them, of course)… Avoiding this leadership-trap is done by first asking, What will we look like when we become a premier sales organization?

1.      How will sales associates Attitudes be oriented differently (than they are today)?

2.      How will they Behave differently (than they are today)?

3.      Of what will each sales associate be Capable (that they are not already today)?

The answers to these questions SHOULD BE the central focus of a strategic-leader’s mindset. In fact, they should be at the center of every action plan or value decision the leader makes.

Strategic-Leaders Focus ALL Action on Their Organization’s ABC’s


  • A - ATTITUDE is the mental and emotional ORIENTATION which precedes and accompanies BEHAVIOR.

Though not always, ATTITUDE is the motivator of action. It is the energizer of focus. And it is the invisible force that attracts an associate to consistent, quality BEHAVIORs.



Unfortunately, the word BEHAVIOR is associated with “good” and “bad” and praise or discipline. But it remains the best word to connote the “things we DO” in any venue. Changing a culture to spend more time DOING activities with impact… approaching problems more accurately… focusing actionsthat more precisely and decisively address opportunities, is focused on positive BEHAVIORs and is rightly oriented.



CAPABILITY is the physical, mental and emotional skills, enhanced with process and technology which, partnering with an individual’s ATTITUDE, enables the highest-quality BEHAVIORs.

In short, it doesn’t matter what you want as a leader as much as it matters to understand what change MUST specifically looks like.

The center of all change IS and therefore SHOULD BE Attitude, Behavior andCapability.   Without CHANGE in one of these areas, there simply will be no material organizational change.

Let me give you a couple of examples,

Example 1 (though this is more tactical than strategic, the principles still apply):

Not too long ago I was in a meeting with a group of educators. They have an organizational mission statement, (and I think it is a good one). As they were operating in a sub-group designated to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education within their district. The group quickly zeroed in on reproducing an activity they did the previous year (They held a community event in which students and families engaged in STEM type games and presentations). The intent was to elevate the visibility of STEM… what it means… and how it manifests in a real way. Their direction was laudable and the group was clearly focused within the right territories. However, as I observed the hour-long conversation, I continued to wait on the simple questions to be asked:

What change in Attitude, Behavior or Capability will this event create and to what extent (within students, families and the community)?

Energy poured into generating ideas to make the event better, but were they certain that the event was serving their mission (Does it impact AB or C)? If they determine that it is meaningful, how meaningful is it (What will cause them to say, “Yes, we’ve achieved it)? Does it deserve the resources or could they be allocated more effectively somewhere else?

This story replays over and over again, in organizations everywhere, every day (Much work and many resources poured in while the result will inevitably remain elusive).

Example 2: A common assertion in many organizations goes like this:

Statement: “We need to do “X” to increase safety awareness.”

The typical leader responds: “I’m all in for safety, what do you have in mind and how can I help?” (And we all think, what a great leader, she really cares about safety and empowers her safety leaders!)

But, this conversation should go differently!

What a strategic-leader should say: “I don’t care about safety awareness” (Everyone gasps), because I cannot wrap my mental understanding around “awareness”. How will I know when we have achieved it?

Strategic-leader should explain: “First tell me how “X” will specifically change Attitudes, Behaviors or Capabilities. If it promises to change them enough to justify doing “X” I am 100% in!” 

You see, every organization is filled with people who can DO stuff. But organizations are starving for people who are DOING the right stuff. They need strategic-leaders who cast strategic visions and then lead the elevation of Attitudes, Behaviors andCapabilities.

So, the next time you are in a meeting, or you are contemplating an action plan or a strategic plank, make sure you earnestly ask the room (or yourself), if we do this…

  • How much change should we see in Attitudes and what specifically should it be?
  • What will the new Behaviors look like? How quickly should we see them and how lasting will they be?
  • What new Capabilities will we acquire and what impact will they make?


Ask these simple questions often and (I guarantee you will) change the trajectory of your organization for the good.

Remember, strategic-leaders always spend more time considering what’s most important, because they know Strategy Always Matters.


Coming Soon

Part II – Strategic-communication in an ABC Culture: Turning Sand into Grease

Part III – Living in an ABC Culture: Operating in a Low Friction, High Performance Organization


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