Strategic Thinking

“Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do.  Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.”

– Savielly Tarakover

Name one thing that Sen. Barack Obama has accomplished … Political pundits (Chris Matthews, etc.) have been challenging / brow-beating their guests to respond to this question. Political opponents (Sen. Clinton, Sen, McCain) have been trying to use this rhetorical question to their advantage. So, courtesy of Time Magazine’s Joe Klein, here is one significant accomplishment for Sen. Obama:

He is the only significant candidate whose campaign has not gone broke! He and his staff have defined a successful strategy to capture the Democratic part’s Presidential nomination. 

If nothing else, a presidential campaign tests a candidate’s ability to think strategically and tactically and to manage a very complex organization. We have three plausible candidates remaining–Obama, Clinton and John McCain–and Obama has proved himself the best executive by far. Both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns have gone broke at crucial moments. So much for fiscal responsibility. McCain has been effective only when he runs as a guerrilla; in both 2000 and ’08, he was hapless at building a coherent campaign apparatus. Clinton’s sins are different: arrogance and the inability to see past loyalty to hire the best people for the job and to fire those who prove inadequate. “If nothing else, we’ve learned that Obama probably has the ability to put together a smooth-running Administration,” said a Clinton super-delegate. “That’s pretty important.”

Strategy and tactics – both are important; they are intertwined. Your strategy defines and points you towards your goal. The tactics that you employ enable you to reach your goal.

A clearly defined strategy guides and informs your staff. It shows them they way and tells them what to do – especially when no one is there to tell them what to do; when no one is there to answer their questions.

Your clearly defined strategy provides the answers to these questions: What? Why? and When?

The tactics that they employ to successfully execute your strategy answer these questions; “How? Where? and Who?

Strategic questions:

  • What are we striving to achieve? What is our goal?
  • Why is it important? Why does it matter?
  • When will we reach our goal?

Tactical questions:

  • How do we plan to campaign in all 50 states? How do we engage and energize a new generation of voters?
  • Where is the best place to meet our potential voters? Where do they gather? Where do they get their information?
  • Who exactly will be doing this? Do you know who is responsible for each tactic?

“Ready on Day 1?” That is the constant refrain that Sen. Clinton shouts out to her declining audiences.

A better question for Sen. Clinton herself: “Are we ready for the challenges beyon “Super Tuesday, February 5th?”

Obviously not! Today’s headline:  “Clinton Ended January with $7.6M in Debt”

The strategy for the Clinton Campaign? Have the coronation (I mean nomination) wrapped up before Super Tuesday, Feb. 5th!

With that goal in mind, they never considered the alternative. They never assessed the risk – that another candidate would mount a serious challenge to Sen. Clinton.

They forgot to ask questions. Or perhaps questions were not allowed. No one ever asked / answered the question, “What if…?
Their strategy has come up empty – they do not seem to know “what to do when there is nothing to do.” This is a failure of leadership. Can we learn from our failures? Can we take away a lesson from the mistakes of others?

As leaders, do we try to “fix our mistakes” or are we intent on “fixing the blame?” Was it a flawed strategy? Ineffective tactics? Or… do we fix the blame on the media? The advertising? The lack of finding?

How you answer these questions reveals your leadership capability.

Let’s go back to Joe Klein’s column for another insight:

I spoke with prominent Democrats in the caucus states, and the story was the same all over: Obama had organizers on the ground, advertising on the air and in the mailboxes–and made crucial personal appearances at the right times. Clinton was late to the game or absent entirely. “It seems as if they simply hadn’t thought out what was going to happen after Super Tuesday,” said a Nebraska Democrat who supported Clinton. “Obama paid attention. He courted [Senator] Ben Nelson and got his endorsement. He spoke in Omaha; Michelle went to Lincoln. I’m not saying Clinton could have won here, but she sure could have made it closer, won a few more delegates. Now you just have the sense that this campaign is over. She looks like a loser.”

In years to come, I think that the 2008 Presidential Primary Campaign will be studied in Political Science classes around the world. It provides a textbook case study. It provides the sharpest contrast between the two candidates. It provides the answer to at least one question:

Which candidate has put together the most effective team?

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