Book Recommendation: “The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs” by Cynthia A. Montgomery

Wednesday, 12. December 2012

In our talks and professional articleswe have long been promoting the idea that strategic planning is a "leadership process." This encompasses not only the establishing of a systematic and clearly defined strategic decision-making, planning, and controlling process, but also and especially an appropriate leadership behavior of managers. The renowned Harvard professor and strategy expert Cynthia A. Montgomery is now backing up our ideas in her recently published book The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs.

For the past six years, Montgomery has taught the strategy track of the Harvard Business School´s internationally recognized Entrepreneur, Owner, President (EOP) Program, which is attended by entrepreneurs and accomplished executives from around the world and from all industries. From her teaching and research experience, she has concluded that the role of leadership has been downplayed by strategy studies and is often overlooked by practitioners.

Since the 1980‘s und 90’s, strategy has developed into a science with its own frameworks, methods, and tools, such as the SWOT analysis. Over time, strategy has been viewed as a special function to be outsourced to consulting firms. This, Montgomery says, led to unintended consequences. For once, “strategy became more about formulation than implementation.” Strategic plans often ended up collecting dust on shelves where they would basically sit untouched until the beginning of a new planning cycle. Secondly, by outsourcing strategy work, the role of the leader as “arbiter and steward of strategy” has been undermined. Ultimately, the author argues, strategy work has deprived itself of its own importance.

Montgomery believes that leadership and strategy are inseparable and need to be reunited. After all, strategy is about nothing less than determining a company’s purpose. A decision that-by all valuable support from employees and consultants-can be made only by the management. Moreover, the author argues, that strategy is not an analytical problem or exercise that could be solved and settled by specialists; rather it is an open, ongoing process that requires a lot of stamina and flexibility. Strategy is a “journey“ requiring continuous, not intermittent, leadership.”

Montgomery encourages leaders to change the way they view their roles within their companies and think of themselves as strategists. The aim of her book is to help them develop the skills and sensibilities necessary to fulfill this role.

Many of the concepts discussed in her book are based on the theories of her famous Harvard colleague Michael E. Porter, such as the creation of a competitive advantage or value chain analysis for effective and efficient strategy implementation.

Two common leadership and strategy failings the author points out are overconfidence and ignorance. Competitive forces and their impact on the company’s strategy need to be analyzed and evaluated objectively. There is no room for embellishing the competitive position of your own business or downplaying the one of your rivals. What is needed is blunt honesty and willingness to hear inconvenient truths.

The remaining of the book is filled with lots of interesting case studies of successful international companies, such as IKEA, Google, Gucci, and (of course) Apple. Although one may have wished for some more detailed tips and instructions, these practical examples help the reader to develop and perfect his or her strategy skills.

The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs – highly recommended!


Montgomery, C.A. (2012). The strategist: Be the leader your business needs. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-207101-9, 208 pages