Go fly a kite! Strategy lessons for CEOs by Tara Rethore (@TRethore)

by Tara Rethore on September 19, 2012

Kite flying is a fabulous summer activity, particularly at the beach.

The wind scoops it up and few trees, buildings, or power lines interfere with its flight. In business, we rarely have the opportunity to pursue our strategies unfettered. Watching my 9-year old son flying his kite all by himself, I couldn’t help but notice four parallels for turning business vision into reality.

1.       Determine which way the wind is blowing.

Just like planes, kites launch best when they take off into the wind. Stand with your back to the wind, toss the kite into the sky and let it catch. Launching a new initiative requires a similar approach.

Anticipate what your customers or clients need, know what your competitors are doing (or not), then get out ahead and go for it.

2.       Be aware of your environment.

You need space to launch a kite and a clear awareness of what’s on both the ground and overhead within a pretty wide radius of where you initially stand. While you are looking up, totally focused on the kite, it’s easy to trip over a rock, step in a hole, or bump into someone walking on the beach.

Or, take your eye off the kite and suddenly, it takes a dive or gets tangled.

Similarly, CEOs require laser focus to execute their strategy; they can’t be distracted by other things. Nevertheless, ignoring what’s happening elsewhere risks losing the edge or sacrificing loft. Find the right balance: focus on the end game, but identify triggers that signal the need to re-plan.

When that happens, move on to parallel #3. 

3.       Adapt to deal with changing conditions.

Ever watch a skilled kite flyer? They never stop moving; it’s an incredibly active process. The most captivating seem to be one with their kites. They read the wind and the conditions, deal with gusts, and adjust the reel and string as needed to remain in flight. Likewise, strategy is active and dynamic – not an annual event.

Success requires you actively manage your strategy, just as you would any other fundamental management process. Include key milestones and triggers (so you know what to monitor and when) and decisions (so you are ready to act when conditions change).

4.       Hang onto the reel!

Having focused for a while and raised his kite far overhead, my son grabbed a large rock and anchored his reel under it. Then off he went to the next activity. When he returned, the kite was long gone – the wind and the reel having conspired to release the kite into the sky. So, too, with your strategy or initiative. Often, we launch strategies or initiatives with great fanfare and excitement – only to lose sight of them as soon as the next cool breeze comes along. 

For many, the fall marks the time to rethink their strategy and look ahead to the next year. Strategic review is a good idea; it’s helpful to assess progress and make adjustments – particularly if you use that information to guide your budget decisions. Yet in my experience, too many organizations have turned strategic planning into an annual event that bears little relevance for strategy execution.

In fact, “making strategy work is more difficult than the task of strategy making”. This year, rather than simply recreating a plan, consider what’s changed, what lies ahead, and what you’ve learned about your strategy over the last year. Then adapt the existing plan and milestones to reflect your new reality.

And maybe, before you embark on a strategic review with your company, head to the park and fly a kite.

Image courtesy of Flickr user stuant63

Tara Rethore is president of M. Beacon Enterprises.

For over 20 years, she has helped a variety of organizations to develop and articulate their strategic priorities and plans at multiple levels – enterprise-wide, country/region, function, operating unit. As an executive and a consultant, she’s learned how to combine high-level strategic thinking with hands-on experience of managing strategic plans. Tara earned an A.B. cum laude in Economics from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

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