Manifesto on strategic clarity

Most of my time is spent helping leaders of non-profit organizations and social enterprises to cultivate strategic clarity.

I want them to think clearly about their organizations. I want them to make sensible decisions and act swiftly upon them.

But I’ve noticed how easily we get lost in the activities, documents and tools of strategy. These can become an end in themselves.

I recommend we shift our attention to what we’re trying to achieve: clarity of thinking and good decision-making. Then we become open to possibilities we never considered before. Sometimes, all we need is a good night’s sleep.

This article explores some creative ideas for how we can improve our strategic clarity.

Estimating probabilities is key to strategy

Leaders must be good at taking bets against the future. They must be able to choose a course of action that is most likely to advance their organization in an uncertain world. Competent leaders make the right bets most of the time; bad leaders don’t.

However, many of the leaders I help are overwhelmed by the strategic choices facing their non-profit organization or social enterprise. 

They have realized that they have limited resources such as time, attention, money and people. They recognize that they cannot pursue all opportunities. Neither can they protect against all threats and risks, with equal enthusiasm, despite wanting to do so. They have learned that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. They have begun to accept their limitations as leaders.

Leaders must learn how to embrace the ‘agony of choice’. They must become skilled at estimating probabilities. They must learn to act swiftly with imperfect information.

Leading “start-ups” versus established organizations

Many social entrepreneurs set up organizations in order to change the world. Those working on a “start-up” enterprise need to think differently about their organizations from those who run established or mature organizations.

While start-ups require entrepreneurs to exist in a state of high-energy hustle, established organizations require leaders who are good at building systems and achieving results through others.

Treating an established organization like a start-up can do more harm than good! It may constrain an organization’s evolution by locking it into a developmental stage. Conversely, handling a start-up (with its limited resources and unrefined approach) in the same way that you would treat an established organization would make it difficult to get it off the ground.

The wisdom is knowing when your organization has become established (it normally takes around 5 years) and then shifting your thinking and behaviour accordingly.

This article explores how social entrepreneurs and leaders should see and treat their organizations, depending on whether they are busy setting it up or whether it is already established.

How to stay happy, sane and productive while working in the business of changing the world

I gave this presentation to social entrepreneurs at The Mensch Network in Cape Town on 27 February 2019. It was a very engaging discussion. I learned as much from the participants as they did from me.

This presentation contains 10 pieces of Unconventional Advice that have served me well in my career, and which have helped to accelerate my progress. The origin of this presentation was a letter that a young social entrepreneur had written to me about her anxiety about not being able to “plot a clear path into the future”. This presentation explores how careers have changed and how adopting this advice will put you in good stead for the future.

“Necessary endings”: why we need to make them to move forward

We are all called upon to make endings in our work and personal lives. This can be a painful process that many of us postpone until it is too late. Endings can also be enabling – they can help us get unstuck and move forward in the right direction.

Learning how to end things is both a life-skill and a leadership-skill.

However, it is one of the things that my clients most struggle with – how to identify when to end something and knowing how to do it in the right way.

The book “Necessary Endings” by Dr Henry Cloud is profound and changed how I work with endings. It is the book that I most frequently recommend to clients. I encourage you to read it. This article pays homage to the wisdom in this book.

This article discusses some themes from the book that are most relevant to my consulting work. It adopts an organizational focus, while the book also explores the role of endings in our personal lives. This article will get you thinking more about the inevitability and value of endings.

How does your personality determine the best legal form for your social enterprise?

This presentation explores how a social entrepreneur’s personality (and preferred business model) strongly influences the type of legal structure that best suits their social enterprise. It contains the types of challenges that social entrepreneurs bring to my consulting practice. It includes 14 personality questions that entrepreneurs need to answer in order to make the best choice for themselves.

This presentation was first given at the Pathways to Funding Do-ference on 28 September 2017. This event was organized by the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town.

Effective governance in nonprofit organizations

All non-profit organizations have governance structures. In some organizations these structures are a source of insight, leadership and inspiration. In others they are a source of ineffectiveness, frustration and conflict.

This article from July 2013 presents the three primary roles of these governance structures (e.g. govern strategically, govern responsibly and manage compliance), as well as the key factors that correlate with the effectiveness of these structures. This article challenges the conventional view that boards should focus on compliance, and that this increases social and financial performance.

Strategic Acumen: Natural Talent or Something You Learn in an MBA?

Have you ever wondered why some organizations fail to succeed, despite hundreds of hours of strategic planning sessions and a multitude of ambitious MBA minds behind the steering wheel? We already know that these organizations need capable leadership. New research also suggests that organizations need leaders with strategic acumen, and that strategic acumen is much more like an innate ability, than something one learns at college.

This article from August 2008 dispels various myths about strategy and emphasizes the need to choose talent carefully.

In pursuit of strategic clarity

Back to top of page ↑