Two Guard Rails of Every Good StrategyJul 25, 2022
Usually, voices in your head are not a good thing, but I’ve learned about two that are. And they’re not the typical stereotype of competing voices in your head...
When it comes to planning and strategy, there are two voices you always want to hold in tension. They’re the voice of thoughtfulness and the voice of humility. Let me explain them and give you a vivid spiritual rooting for each.
The main idea on thoughtfulness is: Don’t be impulsive and superficial in the planning and pursuit of your vision. Instead be thoughtful and comprehensive.
Early in Jesus’ ministry He used the phrase, “count the cost” as He was teaching and training His disciples.
“Don’t begin until you count the cost. Who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish (complete) it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.” (Luke 14:28)
Jesus is addressing small farmers, and He uses the illustration of building a tower—probably adding a side building onto an existing structure. The idea is clear—before you make a major jump in strategy and commit lots of resources, think through the cost. And that means all the costs, not just the start-up costs.
It’s an idea that managers and executives often struggle with. David Brooks wrote that “human beings are overconfidence machines,” citing a study in which 99% of business professionals overestimated their success. 99%!
In the same way, I’ve heard it said that Americans are great sprinters and horrible marathoners—in running and in life. The gun goes off, and we’re sprinting like mad—trying to take advantage of the opportunity. A new market to step into, a seemingly home-run hire, an acquisition possibility. All of a sudden, we’re making a strategic shift that is far riskier than we realize. Too often, we have great vision enthusiasm, but we sputter out after 100 yards.
Thoughtful, comprehensive analysis asks questions like:
- What resources will I need to see this venture through?
- What obstacles might I face?
- Will I look back and call this an impulsive decision?
- Who would see things from a different point of view and what could I learn from talking with them?
- What are the real numbers and hard costs I’ll face in my start-up?
Consequential outcomes require consequential input. We must invest the time to make wise decisions. The book of Proverbs drives this point home over and over again using words such as “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)
There’s a counterweight to all that talk of comprehensiveness and forethought. Here it is: Don’t be presumptuous and arrogant about your self-contrived plans. Instead be humble and reverent.
Just as Jesus assumes listeners should “count the cost” before finalizing plans, we should be reminded that even finalized plans are never set in stone.
We see this plainly in one of my favorite books of the New Testament—the book of James. James is infectiously real world and immediate in its message. Toward the end of the book we see a paragraph that gives us the corresponding other bookend to the “count the cost” message we saw in Luke.
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. (James 4:14-16)
Notice the 6 gates of the presumption plan. In short, this is a strategic plan. The questions of When? Who? Where? How long? What? and Why? are all right there. So we’re done, right? Great job, everybody. Now let’s delegate tasks and go implement the plan, OK?
What does James say about this planning? He says, “You don’t even know if you’re going to be alive tomorrow. Your whole life is subject to the Lord’s will.” Leaving God out of the equation puts you in the seat reserved for the Divine—a frightening thought.
Everything you do should be under the banner of “Lord willing.” Not just a token, “Lord willing,” but a heartfelt, “God is good, and if He chooses to advance my cause or if He chooses to block it, He is still good.”
Humility without thoughtfulness creates leaders who make decisions with an unhealthy weight of emotion and leaders who don’t finish things. Every opportunity seems like it is sent from God. Thoughtfulness without humility produces leaders who can’t handle failure and have no empathy (which means you struggle to gain an audience and create a team, especially among millennials).
It takes both. So, when you are facing the need to plan and strategize the future, keep the message of Jesus and the message from James alive in your head.
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