How to identify a strategist

MBA - Mediocre But Arrogant

One of the first interesting hurdles I had to overcome when I started my research into how strategists develop their skills was how to work out who was, and wasn't, a strategist. It is far more difficult than you may think.

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Traditionally we use job titles and other observable characteristics, like a business degree, to identify individuals such as CEOs and senior managers as strategists. This however simply identifies those responsible for strategy but does not provide any clue as to whether they are competent. Practical experience, and common sense, tells me that every CEO and MBA holder are not competent strategists. Far from it in fact.

The problem is that strategic management, in fact management in general, does not have a qualification system in the way doctors, lawyers and like have. This is one of the key aspects that defines a profession - a qualification system that is enforced and only qualified individuals are allowed to practice. If you want to become a doctor you have to be trained and demonstrate your skill to the satisfaction of the appropriate Royal College. This is a good thing!

Unfortunately for the business community, anyone can claim to be a manager or a strategist simply by borrowing the name and adding it to their LinkedIn profile. The result is that the business community is inundated with incompetent managers and strategists. The MBA degree is certainly no guarantee of competence! Universities would love the MBA to become the surrogate for professional status as it would give them a licence to print money by forcing everyone to do one.

The way I solved this problem for my research is, I believe, a suitable method for anyone looking to hire some resource to help them with their own strategy formulation or implementation - using peer recommendations. Forget degrees, job titles, previous roles they have had or what they claim on their LinkedIn profile, ask someone you respect as to whether they can practice strategy well. While it is difficult to quantify what makes up a competent strategist, it is relatively easy to recognise skilled practice in action.

So be careful out there! Imagine your strategist as a doctor about to put a knife into you. How comfortable would you feel if you weren't sure they know what they were doing!