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Role of the CEO in Strategic Planning

Strategic thinking is uncommon in the strategic planning process. While strategic planning is your association’s chance to be proactive, to take a bird’s eye view of your organization, and most important, to shape its future, the process is more successful with an eye on practicing strategic thinking. As CEO and President of the Association, you know the subtleties of your group better than anyone else. Where your strategic planning “outsider” (facilitator) can make observations and, possibly wrong interpretations, their role is keeping the process moving in a strategic direction; your role is to rally your team around the big issues and often-difficult work that comes out of this process. (You know, keep them out of the weeds and thinking like strategists!) All three of you/us can help your team be relentless in moving towards your vision. That’s the art and the benefit of thinking strategically. The most notable piece of mobilizing your team is making sure they are engaged. That’s where you come in. It means drawing out different factions in the room that leads to better decision-making – even if that means juggling competing perspectives. Some will support an issue and some that won’t. Bring the silent voices into the conversation.

The most effective sessions I lead are ones where the CEO and President or Chair:

  • Takes stock of the attendees and helps make sure the team is engaged.

  • Shows curiosity and imagination – versus being the expert or the lead dog (that sometimes comes with the position).

  • Is open to experimenting – for a solution that hasn’t ever been tried.

  • Is open to different interpretations that helps the group gain perspective – and doesn’t lead with theirs. (Observations are good – leave the interpretation to the process and others to express.)

  • Inspires the group by clarifying and observing the team in action.

You know that this process is the team’s work. The more your stakeholders express their views, the better the buy-in at the end. You will lead the best by helping the group explore the issues, process the information, and actively question what’s going on. Your role is to be the eyes and ears in the room that makes sure the group engages and walks out feeling like this was a worthwhile investment.

To get the best from your group, consider it your role to:

  • Ask thoughtful – and open-ended questions (instead of making statements or giving your opinion).

  • Find the ones who aren’t talking and ask them if they have anything to add?

  • Push the group to take on a good experiment.

  • Urge the group to be curious about what will help fill the gap?

  • Start where “they” are. Some attendees at this meeting won’t know as much or have as much experience as you. Be sensitive to suggest that we step back if you need to.

  • Expose the elephant in the room.

  • Raise the heat if there is a sensitive issue – bring it up to the group and ask them to talk about it.

  • Lower the heat by validating concerns, acknowledging the people who talk about it, and even use humor to help diffuse the situation.

  • Take the temperature in the room – with a question like: “Do we need to talk about (X)?”

The dynamics of the group will impact the results. Will you help your fellow leaders shape the outcome? If so, you’ll be more likely to celebrate a visionary, competitive, and strategic plan.

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