Strategy, Failure and Relationships – 3 Lessons for Executives!

Is the CEO or the Board responsible for a company strategy?

Over the many years I’ve spent serving as both the CEO of a VC-funded startup and as a board member for a variety of local and international startups, this question has continued to come up. The answer, in short, is simple: the board is not responsible for initiating the company strategy or driving its development.

Of course, the board plays many crucial roles such as drafting governance, providing oversight, and offering subject-matter expertise. But the CEO and her team are responsible for drafting the company strategy that falls in line with the mission, values, and core competencies, while the board guides, critiques, and ultimately approves it. In this HBR article, the author goes as far as suggesting that the CEO should even be fired if he or she relinquishes to the board the responsibilities of initiating company strategy or driving it forward.

As a rule of thumb, you, the CEO, should conduct a yearly strategy review with your team, involve the board for feedback and guidance, and finally, present the board with a “fully-baked” strategy that you’re ready to commit to.

Are you Afraid of Failure?

The most likely answer to this question is yes, but that’s okay. Everyone is afraid of failure to some degree. In a professional setting, the majority of us fear failure because we believe that it signals to our peers that we are not smart or capable. We also fear the idea of disappointing the people around us whose opinions we value. However, it’s important to note that failure does not have either of these effects. The fact of the matter is that everyone fails, and as long as we learn from our failures, we maintain the confidence and respect of our colleagues.

Researchers recognize that failure is just part of the process of eliminating unsuccessful options.

Thomas Edison articulated this best: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Think of your career as a marathon, not a sprint. Each failure is a new lesson in how not to attack a certain problem, and over the course of this marathon, you will have learned thousands of these lessons that in aggregate represent a skillset of extreme value.

Once you can flip your perspective on the concept of “failure”, you will notice yourself moving past the minimalist approach to your work and the opportunities around you. Said differently, you will begin to take some risks. Even failing spectacularly can be the best evidence that we are alive, human, and serious about aspiring to achieve the extraordinary.

Is your boss shutting you out?

We have all been in situations throughout our careers where the relationship with our boss sours. Whether it’s the long gradual deterioration of the relationship or the sudden change due to some event at work, you now find yourself believing that you’re being shut out. What do you do?

If you care to stay with the company whether for personal or professional reasons, then your best course of action is to do what you can to get the relationship back on track. In a prior HBR article, Liz Kislik suggests a few steps that you can undertake to “maintain satisfaction with your job” and ultimately mend the relationship with your boss.

First, confirm that you are actually being treated differently than your peers and that you are being negatively impacted by it. If yes, it’s important to then keep emotions in check when determining if/that you are part of the problem. Sometimes you simply needed to adjust your own work style to that of your boss.

Second, try to repair and reset the relationship with them. The drift could have been caused by a misunderstanding, misalignment in expectations, or conflict in expertise. In either case, you need to engage your boss in an open dialogue and seek his or her guidance on how to move the relationship forward.

Third, don’t fall into the common trap of turning apathetic toward work. Becoming an uninterested party will surely accelerate your exit and for good cause! Rather, increase focus on bettering your performance, supporting your peers, stepping out of your comfort zone, and ultimately impacting the organization.


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