How To Take The Path From Tactical To Strategic

What do I do now? This is a question that most newly promoted leaders ask, at least of themselves. The transition between having a mostly tactic-focused function and that of a strategy focused leader of people can be a challenging shift. Getting stuff done (here and now) can be much more immediately satisfying than the more ambiguous and strategic work that ensures that the business has a strong future. I know this. I’ve been there.

I often find my clients struggling with this same problem. The pull of accomplishing immediate objectives versus planning and executing long term goals is a battle many leaders fight, especially those who are new to this role. I have heard people say things like, “I know I need to hire somebody new, but I’m just too busy!” or “Our strategic plan will have to wait until I get these important projects done.” And so it goes – tactics win over strategy. While none of the following ideas are fail-proof, they will help you find an appropriate balance between tactical work and strategic work.

Plan. It is difficult to even define what work needs to be done if you do not have a plan. Successful companies will have an overall strategic plan and then each department will have their defined piece of that plan. Subsequent to that department plan comes functional plans and, ultimately, individual plans. It is from these plans that strategies flow into clearly defined tactics, all of which should have specific “owners.”

Delegate. I know this solution is obvious and yet it is so easy to get caught in the “I’m the only one who can do it” or “I’ll just whip this out before I start on this other work.” While leaders must do some tactical work, the obligation they have to the business is to keep planning for the future…or there may be no future (after all, companies cannot live by tactics alone). Leverage the plan to define who does what. Inevitably, the leaders will have some tactics to accomplish in order to drive the details of their part of the plan. The 80/20 Rule is a good way of thinking about the balance of time and effort spent on strategic work (80%) and tactical work (20%). For individual contributors, the opposite might make sense.

Resource. The question for many new leaders is not if they are required to do the strategic work, but can they? In other words, do they understand what the actual work is and do they have the capability to do it? This evaluation is often missed when strong performers are promoted. Newly promoted leaders need to ask for the resources they need, whether that is training, specific direction from the supervisor, support from a coach or mentoring.

Another resource consideration may be extra help to accomplish tactical activities in the near time, while the leader focuses their time on the important strategic work. It makes much more sense to have a temporary hourly worker complete a data entry project, for instance, than it does for a salaried leader to spend their valuable time on the work. The “big bucks” the leader makes should be invested in the “big work” of the company.

As a leader in an organization, your responsibility is to LEAD. You cannot do this if you are down in the tactical “weeds.” Make sure that you are set up for success with a clear plan, ability to delegate and the resources you need.

For a complimentary copy of my e-book The 180 Rule for Newly Promoted Leaders, please send an email to and put 180 Rule in the subject line.

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