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The Strategist Book: Be the Leader Your Business Needs Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Aug 27th, 2020

Montgomery (2012) provides valuable advice and case studies in her book to support her main argument: it is not the strategy itself that matters, but the leader’s ability to be a successful strategist. As the author points out, there is no successful sustainable strategy because the market and the industries demand changes (Montgomery, 2012). Although she does point out that it is crucial to consider the company and the industry, they are not the only factors that will eventually influence your decision-making and its outcomes, it is the approach that matters, and the ability to adjust, to change and invent new strategies if needed.

As surprising as it might sound, many companies do not profoundly think about the aim of their business or its uniqueness (Montgomery, 2012). The author argues that an unclear understanding of what your company is trying to reach, what it will be in the next ten years, and how external and internal forces drive it can be fatal (Montgomery, 2012). The leader’s confusion about the company’s aims leads to wrong decision-making at the lower levels, including marketing, production, service, and other levels that need to base their decisions on a shared goal. Still, it cannot, because this goal does not exist. That is why, Montgomery (2012) argues, strategy and leadership are inseparable; strategy cannot be completed because it is a process that drives the company towards its aims. It cannot be finished because it is part of the firm’s course, which is the strategist (Montgomery, 2012).

The industry’s influence on the company and its strategies should not be diminished. As Montgomery (2012) puts it, “you must understand the competitive forces in your industry [because] if you don’t understand them, your strategy is based on luck and hope” (p. 52). These forces, as well as different conditions in the industries, should not be neglected because the strategist will base their decision-making on these factors.

Creating the purpose of your company is also important. A company can take the industry and the market into consideration, but if it does not have a clear purpose or a vision, there is a strong chance it will fail. As an example, Montgomery (2012) provides a comparison between Masco and IKEA. Both entered the unattractive furniture industry and had difficulties competing with rivals, but IKEA eventually became a successful major player in the industry, while Masco did not. Why? Because the IKEA’s founder created the company’s vision and understood its purpose, which made it different from all other furniture manufacturers.

Revisiting and reviewing your work is yet another exercise leaders and strategists should not ignore. Analyzing your work is harder than reviewing the work of others, Montgomery argues (2012). That is the reason why some of the companies fail: due to their inability to critically assess their decision-making and adjust it to the existing conditions. Only after the purpose is formulated and the strategies are tested, the leader can work on the final statement that will ensure commitment to the company both inside and outside of it. A vague idea or vision will not succeed because it is impossible to create efficient strategies using unclear goals (Montgomery, 2012). Lack of enthusiasm and no confidence in vision and mission statements will leave the customer doubting about your professionalism. Simultaneously, practical approaches such as meaningful metrics or a well-thought system of value creation will also help the strategist make the company more valued.

Critical Analysis

One of the book’s main advantages is that it is very structured, clear, filled with examples, and written with little to no complicated discussions and terms. Therefore, the book is perfect learning material for students and new leaders/entrepreneurs who have not yet gained enough experience and need support from someone more experienced. Although many of the arguments might seem too basic, it is surprising that many companies do not follow the simple advice given in the book: to understand your mission and create a vision that will make your business valuable and unique. Moreover, Montgomery (2012) also points out that competitiveness is not the factor that defines one’s success. Although not a new thought, many scholars and researches prefer ignoring this message, and the ability to compete is often regarded as the only virtue essential for any company. As Montgomery (2012) shows in her book, it is not; well-defined efforts are often disregarded, although they are directly linked to the company’s ability to present a unique vision to their customers.

Another advantage of the book is its approach towards the myth of a super-manager. Montgomery agrees (2012) that confidence is important, but it is not the only driving force of successful leadership. Without a strategy, confidence can become reckless, as it was with Masco. Here, Montgomery (2012) takes a different approach towards confidence compared to many other books on leadership and strategy. The author does neither underrate nor overrate the importance of confidence; instead, she sees it as a tool that can be used differently and does not always lead to success (Montgomery, 2012).

I would also like to discuss the deliberate merging of two concepts – business strategy and company’s purpose – in this book; as Montgomery (2012) notices, not many companies realize that these concepts either represent the same idea or are co-dependent. Some of the books on strategy and purpose prefer to discuss these concepts as distinct, although both of them can change throughout time and influence each other. Montgomery’s (2012) decision to discuss them as the same factor that affects the company is one of the advantages of this book.

Despite the multiple advantages of this book, I would also like to point out some weaknesses. First of all, just like many books on strategy do, Montgomery’s (2012) focus on the Apple Inc. and Steve Jobs reduces then newness of the material because Job’s strategies and decision-making are a standard discussion for all of the books that explore the issues in leadership. As important as Job’s persona might be, common examples normally do not count as advantages.

Second, Porter’s five forces analysis is also not new, even to students. It is unclear why Montgomery (2012) decided to dedicate half of the chapter to the analysis that is well-known among the circles of readers she addresses. It appears that it would be more reasonable to briefly discuss Porter’s analysis and cite him in recommended readings, instead of presenting information from the 1980s many of the readers are most likely already familiar with. Alternatively, Montgomery (2012) could have provided additional information about the unknown details of this analysis or discussed examples when this analysis was used “in action” and how it contributed to the company’s success. I believe that such a careful approach would provide more visible and understandable examples of how leaders and strategists need to evaluate the existing conditions to create a business strategy. Despite the book’s weaknesses, I believe it is a well-written guide on how a thoughtful approach to strategy and leadership can help one achieve more if applied correctly.

Moreover, I think that many new leaders and entrepreneurs often underrate the importance of all conditions discussed by Montgomery (2012) and see their idea or business strategy as the only tool that will lead their company to success. As the author shows us, bold ideas often result in failures and bankruptcy, if not supported by careful approaches to industry, the idea, the strategy, the market, and other conditions. The author’s note about the significance of the SWOT analysis at the end of the book was also important because it shows that the approaches she criticizes are still highly relevant if used in the right context.

Main Takeaways

The book teaches the reader the difference between vision, mission, and strategy, and their relations to each other; however, it is not often necessary to see strategy and purpose as distinct terms, because it can negatively influence the company’s success. Furthermore, Montgomery (2012) also points out that purpose and mission should not be seen as the same thing, which is highly valuable advice for new leaders and entrepreneurs who might think that there is no difference between these terms. By recognizing the company’s purpose (how will the enterprise matter in a competitive context?), the leader will understand that mission is more about the company’s relationship with society (Montgomery, 2012). When creating the company’s strategy, we can use this approach to understand what will be unique about our company in competition with others (or elimination of competitors) and what it will provide to the society. If the industry’s influence on the company’s success in the market was diminished by the major player (Masco), I believe we can use it as a lesson and further formulate our assumptions using a thorough analysis of the industry.

The importance of revisions and reviews of one’s work is also a lesson that future leaders and strategists should not forget. A critical approach towards one’s ideas cannot harm if applied correctly; it also has the potential to address some of the issues neglected by the leader. I also believe that the value of this book is the author’s additional notes on the material, which discuss a practical approach towards the theories provided in the book (Montgomery, 2012). There, Montgomery (2012) explains how leaders can use statistics, official statements and claims, metrics, publications, and databases to conduct analyses needed for the developed strategy (strategies). She also points out that a nonprofit organization can rely on the discussed theories because the strategies developed for nonprofits also take the industry and competitiveness into consideration. Therefore, it does not matter what kind of a company or an enterprise you run; if you want to be a good strategist, you need to use the pieces of advice provided in this book as a reference to your future (or current) work.

Reference

Montgomery, C. A. (2012). The strategist: Be the leader your business needs. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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