Individual Strategy – A Thinking Tool

20151104_145813The last post looked at an individual perspective on strategy with the start point being a focus on excellence. It was mentioned that technique or tools that enhanced this focus were worth accessing, with a caution to be wary of the assumption of certainty being embedded in the use of the technique or tool. This post is about a thinking tool that I have found of value in this area of individual strategy. I tend to gravitate to thinking tools as I find they are of benefit to me across numerous contexts. I can use them all the time! I also like thinking tools that are very simple to remember but carry significant meaning. For me, this ‘tool’; model really, fits these criteria very well. In many ways it has influenced my view of organizations at a very fundamental level and made sense of my own personal experience in organizations. It also acknowledges rational causality (individual choice) universally within the realm of strategy and I think we are in dire need of that acknowledgement.

What typical thinking about strategy establishes, through its focus on formative causality as the cause of human behavior, is that those in power, those that create strategy are the only people whose behavior is caused by rational causality, individual choice. Those in power have the power to choose and then they develop the structures and systems that will cause the rest of us to follow along, basically with no choice.

I see this to be extremely evident now in our almost fanatical focus on leadership, be it in organizations, politics, religion, sport; almost anything. We crave the hero or heroine leader who will light the way for us, to bring us to some version of the promised land through their leadership.

What this does is establish a very clear hierarchy which all of us are very familiar with in organizations:

Manager managee

You can substitute different words such as leader/follower, coach/coachee, teacher/student or others. Since our focus is organizations and strategy we will stick with manager and managee. There is nothing inherently problematic with the dynamic this model depicts. Until it gets overlaid with an assumption of certainty created by those in power through formative causality. When that happens, as it now has, almost unconsciously so, numerous problems surface, the most fundamental being that the managee is thought to exist in a world without individual choice. The person at the top of the model above holds all the power of choice; they are accountable for our performance, our careers, our engagement, our motivation, our compensation, our status, our vision, our success and eventually our perspective.

If you take even a cursory look at what ‘competencies’ exist for managers and leaders today, almost every one of those points noted just above will be included as what they need to ’cause’ in and for their managees. The manager is supposed to create certainty for their managees. If you are at the bottom of the model above you don’t really have to manage much at all, your manager is supposed to manage it all for you!

Subsequently we are seeing less and less self management as we put our faith and trust in the assumption that those in power can create certainty for us.

And the more those in power fail at this (inevitably so) the more OUCH! we feel.

An individual perspective on strategy can alter this. An image Dr. Freedberg used to illustrate self management was:

Self Manager

In this image the Self Manager and the Managee is the same person, with the self manager representing the very real equality that exists in terms of choice in organizations between those with more power than others.

Basically the model represents a dynamic where the manager gestures to the Self Manager, that part of us that critically assesses that gesture and then metaphorically passes this critical assessment and subsequent choices made about that gesture to the Managee who then acts on that choice which would then be a response to the manager.

What Freedberg said was that this model was nothing more than a true picture of the dynamic of interaction between people of differing levels of legitimate power in organizations. Current organization theory and understanding asks us to eliminate the Self Manager, asks us to bury our belief that we have individual choice.


If we use this model, if we take it seriously all those accountabilities noted above are our own. We are ultimately accountable for our performance, our career, our engagement, our motivation, our compensation, our status, our vision, our success and perhaps most importantly our perspective.

Of course others have influence on all of the above, important influence both enabling and constraining but they are not the CAUSE of the above. This is not some romantic or mystical call to ‘reclaim’ our right to choose. It is simply what is! An awful lot of OUCH! is created by trying to deny this ‘what is’, by trying to deny that we have individual choice. And when we do this, the storm of blame guilt and shame continues, of our own causing.

The start point for all of us to consciously and actively engage in this ‘what is’ is with an individual perspective on strategy. Beginning  with a choice to focus on excellence, with a short term focus and to pursue the opportunities that emerge.

In other words to be individually strategic.

Comment and discussion points for this post:

  1. Who do YOU think is accountable for all those things noted above?
  2. If you are a manager of others do you have formal performance objectives / accountabilities for any of the above FOR your managees?
  3. What do you think is the state of self management in your organization?

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