“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s a question that every strategist must own:
What kind of person do you want to become?
It applies to business and life.
In fact, the most important question a CEO must answer is:
What kind of company do you want yours to be?
We’re all strategists in work and life, if we choose to be.
In the book, The Strategist: Be the Leaders Your Business Needs, Cynthia A. Montgomery shares insights into how to use choice as a chance for endless possibility in business and in life.
What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become?
You should focus on who you want to become, over what you want to have. If you do, you’ll have a much clearer idea for your future.
Montgomery shares writings from Seymour Tilles, a Harvard lecturer, about the responsibility leaders have for setting a course for a company.
“If you ask young men what they want to accomplish by the time they are 40, the answers you get fall into two distinct categories.
There are those–the great majority–who will respond in terms of what they want to have.
This is especially true of graduate students of business administration.
There are some men, however, who will answer in terms of the kind of men they hope to be.
These are the only ones who have a clear idea of where they are going.”
What Kind of Company Do You Want Yours to Become?
The same idea holds true for your company or your business. If you focus on what kind of company you want it to become, you’ll know where to take it.
“The same is true of companies. For far too many companies, what little thinking goes on about the future is done primarily in money terms.
There is nothing wrong with financial planning. Most companies should do more of it. But there is a basic fallacy in confusing a financial plan with thinking about the kind of company you want yours to become.
It is like saying, ‘When I’m 40, I’m going to be rich.’
It leaves too many basic questions unanswered.
Rich in what way? Rich doing what?”
We’re the Sum of Our Choices
Our choices shape who we are and who we will become.
“In the last three decades, as strategy has moved to become a science, we have allowed this fundamental insight to slip away.
We need to bring it back. Existentialist philosophers understand the importance of choices.
They recognized that as individuals, who we are is to a large extent an accumulation of all the choices, large and small, we’ve made through the years of our lives.
External events and influences are important, too, but our choices are the most powerful lever we have to affect our lives.”
Existence is a Given, Essence Never Is
As a strategist, you need to own the questions about purpose, who you will be, and why the world needs you.
“So, too, for companies. But who makes the vital choices that determine a firm’s very identity?
Who says, ‘This is our purpose, not that. This is who we will be. This is why our customers and our clients will prefer a world with us rather than without us?’
These are the questions that a strategist must own. While existence may be a given, essence never is.
The story, the meaning, the real significance must be made. As a leader, it is yours to create.
Others, inside and outside the firm, will contribute in meaningful ways, but in the end, it is the leader who bears responsibility for choices made.”
Boundless Possibilities for Self-Definition
The possibility of choice empowers you to establish your purpose and shape your identity.
“Is it this responsibility that gives you a profound opportunity to shape your business and influence its destiny.
Or as Jean-Paul Satre, a major exponent of existentialism, put it, ‘There is a future to be fashioned.’ Sartre championed what he called ‘the possibility of choice,’ celebrating the way it positions people to craft identity and define purpose.
In his view, it is this fundamental aspect–the possibility of choice–that creates the opportunity to find meaning.
‘Man first of all exists,’ he writes, ‘encounters himself, surges up in the world–and defines himself afterwards.; Sarter’s is a universe that creates boundless possibilities for self-definition.”
Surge Up, Invent Yourself, and Fashion Your Future
The choice is yours if you seize it.
“Now consider the meaning this conviction, this faith in the power of individuals to ‘surge up in the world,’ ‘invent themselves,’ and ‘fashion a future’ can hold in the business world.
Isn’t this what Schumpeter was saying? Isn’t it what business should be all about?
Managers trying to sustain strategic perspective must be ready to confront this basic challenge.
Organizations have to ‘surge up,’ ‘invent themselves,’ and ‘fashion’ their futures.
They too face what Sartre calls a ‘possibility of choice’ every day their doors are open.
Or rather their owners and managers do, for just as Sartre assigns people responsibility for fashioning their futures, the strategic imperative for organizations falls to those who lead them.”
Nothing is More Important than a Clear Sense of Purpose
Success in today’s world depends on a clear sense of purpose.
“This quest is as relevant for large multi-business companies as it is for focused, owner-led ones.
As leveraged buy-outs proliferate and supply chains open up around the world, nothing is more important for any firm than a clear sense of purpose, a clear sense of why they matter.
A board chairman at one such conglomerate made the point bluntly when he asked, ‘What hot dish is this company bringing to the table?’
He was issuing the same challenge.”
Few Choices Matter More Than Who You Will Become
When you address the core decisions around identity and purpose, you shape what you will do, and who you will become.
“Such work can take enormous courage and fortitude– the way Young and Kohl at Brighton Collectibles insist on minimum resale prices and refuse to sell to stores that won’t provide sufficient marketing support for their brand, or the way Ingvar Kamprad chose to produce furniture for the many, not the few.
These are the decisions that determine not only what a business will do, but, more fundamentally, what a business will be. Few choices could matter more.”
You can leave it to chance, but it’s really a choice. The more you exercise your choice around your identity and who you want to become, the more possibilities you create.
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