Smart Leaders Focus on Execution First and Strategy Second

“We found the perfect strategy” ranks with “And they lived happily ever after” as a perpetual myth. A strategy is never excellent in and of itself; it is shaped, enhanced, or limited by implementation. Top leaders can provide the framework and tools for a team, but the game is won on the playing field. When a strategy looks brilliant, it’s because of the quality of execution. A dumb idea is the one you fumble in the field by missing critical details, like how customers would react or what competitors might change while you’re still picking up the ball.

In decades of teaching executives at Harvard Business School and interviewing CEOs for my research, I’ve observed that savvy leaders whose strategies succeed tend to focus on four implementation imperatives:

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