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strategic leadership - Derek's Blog on everything and everything else...

Derek's Blog on everything and everything else...

The Derek Hendrikz blog mostly relates to issues of organisational leadership, management, relevance and performance, but there are times when it does not. This is an interactive forum where we debate relevant and not-so-relevant issues… No holy cow’s kept alive here, thus please say it as it is (according to your world)…

Strategic Leadership… Not to ask but what to ask – that is the question!

Strategic Leadership… Not to ask but what to ask – that is the question!

By Derek Hendrikz


Strategic leadership and strategy development is all about asking the right questions. What, who, where, when, why and how??? Five W’s and one H… the questions we ask. Commonly known as the Kipling method as made famous by his 1902 opening poem for ‘The Elephants Child’.


Easy to say – just ask the W’s and one H… Yet, how you ask them could make all the difference. For instance ‘What must be done?’ is very different to ‘What has been done?’ or ‘What is the difference between what we do and what the department down the hallway does?’ etc… The first question requires a work definition, the second an evaluation and the third a comparison. In fact, we could probably ask any of the W and H questions in a hundred different ways.


The first problem, to my mind, when working with questions is the reality of ‘personal agenda’. This relates to motivation behind the question. Mostly there is a person with very specific assumptions and beliefs behind any question. It would be naïve to believe that many questions don’t have predetermined answers. The most obvious manifestation of this dynamic would be the rhetorical question; e.g. ‘management would never say that about us, or would they?’ In this example the purpose of the question was to make a point.


The only way to deal with this possible elephant in the room is not to let it in… It is for this reason that there should be rules for questions. In other words, we must create a basic ‘if…then…’ set of assumptions – if we ask questions for this purpose then we apply those rules… In my work I mostly have one of three reasons to ask questions, and I use different rules for each. These reasons with their rules are:

·         If I want to investigate something then use questions that unveil the truth about a past event…

·         If I want to enhance process efficiency then use questions that bring order to chaos…

·         If I want to create strategy then use questions that bring chaos to order…


Below are some samples (but no complete list) of questions that can be asked to achieve different results…


Questions that aim to investigate:

Questions that define process:

Questions that create strategy:

·     Who did what?

·      What happened?

·      Where did it happen?

·      When did it happen?

·      How did it happen?

·      Why did it happen?

·      What is our purpose?

·      What must be done?

·      Who must do this?

·      Which information is needed to do this?

·      Where must it be done?

·      When should this be done?

  • Where do we want to be?
  • Why are we not there yet?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What if we do this differently?
  • What if we do something else?
  • How did we get here?
  • When will what we currently do become irrelevant?


The article title claims information on strategic leadership, and I have not said much about that… Now, the primary task of leadership is to influence and the primary task of strategy is to keep relevant, thus questions strategic leaders ask would primarily be to influence relevance. Questions asked at operational level have much to do with empowering process efficiency. Therefor such questions aim to strengthen the genetic makeup of any organisational system. Questions that create strategy on the other hand aims to modify the genetic make-up of any system. Thus, the former enhances an evolutionary process of construction and the latter a revolutionary process of deconstruction. Every construction must be deconstructed and strengthened to stay relevant and every deconstruction needs reconstruction to perform. This is an inverse relationship that must be carefully managed. 


Central to all these question is purpose. This is the nodal point of any organised system. The answer to any question only has meaning relative to its purpose. Let me illustrate. If you jump out of an aeroplane at 30 000 feet, what is the risk? Most people reading this would answer that it is a 100% risk, since you will most definitely die! But, you see, there is one very important question that you did not ask, which is ‘What is the purpose of jumping out of that aeroplane?’ If you want to commit suicide, then it is a 0% risk, since there is no uncertainty of the outcome, but if you want to live, then it is a 100% risk. Thus, the difference between a 100% and a 0% risk lies in purpose. Without understanding purpose, no answer has meaning.


Lastly is important to note that asking questions is the foundation of learning. Therefore, the question is more important than the answer, since a right answer to a wrong question will mislead, whilst a wrong answer to a correct question will still teach!


With this I conclude that what to ask is no easy task… In my Strategic Leadership Master Class we thoroughly unpack the nature and methodology of asking questions at executive level…


In the words of Rudyard Kipling…

“I KEEP six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,

I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me,

I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,

For I am busy then,

As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,

For they are hungry men.

But different folk have different views;

I know a person small—

She keeps ten million serving-men,

Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,

From the second she opens her eyes—

One million Hows, two million Wheres,

And seven million Whys!”


© 29 March 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist





© 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting

  10582 Hits

Translating Strategy to Action – the Great ‘Disconnect’…

Translating Strategy to Action  – the Great ‘Disconnect’…

During the past two decades in working with more than 100 companies in the field of strategic leadership and strategy development, I found the number one complaint from EXCO teams to be “that strategy fails at the execution phase”.

 Harvard Business Review calls this the execution gap (Martin: 2010). According to Fortune Magazine (Fortune 27 December 1982, p38) as well as renowned author, Eric Kurjan (2011), 90% (nine out of ten) strategies fail due to poor execution… In fact if you google “statistics on why strategy fails” you will get 83 000 000 results of which more than 80% tells you that strategy fails due to poor or no execution… Why, Why Why???

A myriad of authors have attempted to explain this ongoing phenomena; thus my attempt here joins a list of many. Nevertheless, I have paid my dues in this field and am confident that I can add to unravelling this predictable misery. I believe, in heart and mind, that this execution gap has three primary sources…

1.       Incompetent EXCO Team…

Amazing how much blame senior management often bestows on the entire organisation for failure to execute strategy. Maybe I’m missing the boat here, but when did life start working this way? For as far as I can remember, where the team loses we fire the coach; where the General loses battle after battle we get rid of him; and yes, where the EXCO team fails to execute strategy, we need to appoint new ones. One of the main reasons for executive failure is the classic case of a Chef who became the CEO, but refuses to get out of the kitchen. Employees are paid to do work and executives are paid to keep the organisation relevant. Keeping relevant carries higher risk than executing work, thus we pay executives higher wages. Now, to keep relevant requires effective strategy. This is all that executives must do, they have no other work. Yet, according to Kurjan (2011), 85% percent of executive teams spend less than one-hour a month on strategy issues. How can this be???

2.       Strategy is only 20-30% of what we do in organisations…

Yes, strategy is 80%+ of EXCO’s work, but this does not mean its 80% of the organisations work. Most of what we do in organisations are process-based. The accountant does the books as she has done them last year and the year before, and she will do so next year and the year after that. Reality is that most employees do what they have done yesterday, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, process-based work holds much less risk than project-based work (strategy & change). The one is based on a predictable past and the other on a very unpredictable future. And YES, we must work with the future, but whilst a few well paid people do this, the rest of us must keep bread on the table. In psychology this is called countertransference. EXCO has targets and so they push everyone else to follow suit, which is immensely confusing to the receptionist – what must she do now, answer the phone 3.5 times faster than yesterday???

3.       Lack of Quantification…

If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Yet, from all the strategy documents I have ever seen, and I have seen many, only about 5% are measurable. Over the past four years I have spent much of my time with other professional colleagues to develop a master scorecard system, which aims to translate strategy to action through quantifying both strategic and tactical work into one scorecard. It is my view that work only starts making sense if we can accurately measure its sum total. In other words we need to create one master scorecard that measures all work within the organisation. Such quantification should be translated to other systems such as performance management, budgeting, etc. But this is a whole new story for another editorial…

      I believe that this ‘disconnect’ between strategy and action starts with a strong realisation by executive teams that strategy is their only work. To become a senior executive, you first need to be fired from your previous job. You are no longer the engineer, the accountant, the lawyer, or the whatever. Your job now is to keep this organisation relevant. Once this awareness has dawned, ask a few simple questions…

·         What must we change to achieve our vision?

·         What must we perfect to stay accountable to our mission?

·         How will we quantify the above into one scorecard?

·         Who needs to take responsibility for what?

·         How will we all behave in executing our task (our values)?


© 10 April 2014

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist




© (c) Derek Hendrikz Consulting

  7034 Hits