five strategic drivers at any one time,
a subset of the factors on which dif-
ferent companies in the industry
compete. The key strategic drivers
should represent the factors the
organization has chosen to invest in
and excel at in order to compete in
the industry.
For example, the freight and deliv-
ery industry has a number of key
strategic drivers. Some companies
focus on price, speed of delivery, or
global reach. Trucking company
Yellow Transportation chose to com-
pete on two other drivers: on-time
delivery and reliability. The company
learned that its customers value these
attributes above all others: they want
their goods delivered at the promised
times (even if transit time is a bit
slower than the competition’s), and
they want their goods to arrive
undamaged. The Yellow
Transportation example highlights an
important characteristic of strategic
drivers: they reflect a deep under-
standing of the customer, the indus-
try, the organization’s current capa-
bilities, and the capabilities it will
need in the future.
Once strategic drivers are understood,
they need to be prioritized. Which
single driver is most important?
Which is second most important? The
tendency is to say they are all equally
important, but this is dangerous and
can lead to a strategy that attempts to
be everything to everyone. The rea-
son for identifying a relatively small
number of drivers and prioritizing
them is to ensure that the organiza-
tion becomes focused on the pattern
of inherently limited investments that
will give the greatest strategic lever-
age. Strategic leaders must make
tough decisions so they can allocate
resources efficiently. And they need
to do so in a way that gets everyone
on the same page about the prioritiza-
So a key task of strategic leaders is to
set clear priorities. But the real chal-
lenge for the top team and the organi-
zation lies in following through. In
the end, do people have a common
understanding of the priorities? Are
the priorities communicated in con-
sistent ways throughout the organiza-
tion? Is everyone really on the same
Getting everyone aligned is a chal-
lenge for many reasons. First, people
naturally have different theories,
opinions, and experiences, which
lead them to think differently about
what makes the business successful
and therefore what the strategic driv-
ers are and should be. Often these
differences are linked to the func-
tional areas where people were
In one of CCLs strategic leader-
ship business simulations, people in
marketing roles argued vehemently
for additional investments in market-
ing that they said were sure to result
in increased market share. But in
reality, much must happen in con-
junction with other areas of the
organization for any investment in
marketing to be worthwhile. Because
people have such different back-
grounds and experiences and come
together with different information,
they are naturally going to hold dif-
ferent ideas or theories about what
will make the business successful.
Therefore, how you go about having
the conversations about priorities is
critically important.
Leaders have often been trained to
get their position across to others and
get these others to buy into that posi-
tion. Operating in this way has
rewarded leaders, allowing them to
stand out, be seen, and have a clear
impact in their organizations. But this
strength can become a weakness
when the buy-in is for a specific
organizational function rather than
overall priorities. It can also be a
weakness when an executive is so
intent on influencing others to get on
board with a position that he or she
misses opportunities to listen and
learn from others and to broaden his
or her own view.
Consider the example of a top
leadership team. It can be tough for
this group to work as a true team, in
part because team members are gen-
erally accountable as a group for the
outcomes of the team’s work (in this
case the success of the organization).
But most executives have excelled by
being held accountable as individuals
for the success of their units. It takes
a major reorientation in mind-set to
rely so much on others and collabo-
rate with others for one’s success.
Ultimately, these executives need to
be willing to be open to influence
from others and to shift their own
positions—because the best strategic
positions are richer, fuller, and more
exciting than any position any single
person has put forth.
How does a team or group of
executives work to achieve this com-
mon understanding? It comes largely
through genuine dialogue. In such a
conversation, people
Spend as much energy listening
to and understanding others as they
do helping others to understand them.
Share openly and freely their
hopes, worries, feedback, and
thoughts, and do this in a construc-
tive way.
Strategic leaders must
ensure that people have
clear, shared priorities.

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