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"Can do" or strategic leadership?






Like it or not, though, 'can-do' has got to take its place in the list of ‘emperor’s-new-clothes’ solutions. Rely on it as a strategy, and you are asking for trouble. It does not stand in for a plan.

Frank Hore/David Low


I have been increasingly aware of the dilemma — yes, often conflict — between "can-do" and strategic leadership. Both have a role to play in society and organizations.

As a systems thinking guy I fit more naturally with the strategic role. As a CEO I also sat in the chair which certainly required "can do" along with "must do"! That experience underscored for me the importance of integrating "can do" and strategy ( and must do).

As our societal, structural and organizational shifts become ever more evident, local to global, the tendency has been to look to the "can do" leader to deliver solutions. The deeper dive on underlying structural problems and strategies to address them may appear daunting to many.

As one who embraces complexity, I admittedly find this perplexing; and down right concerning at times.

A few years ago I came across an RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) blog by Frank Hore and David Low titled: " 'Can-do': no substitute for strategy". Its message resonated with me, and still does:

Like it or not, though, can-do has got to take its place in the list of  ‘emperor’s-new-clothes’ solutions. Rely on it as a strategy, and you are asking for trouble. It does not stand in for a plan.


I remember when Boards used to say ‘times are tough but good leadership will get us out of trouble’ when what they really meant was ‘we cannot see a way out of this; let’s hope the CEO can.’  Today the buck has been passed to can-do: with the right attitude, we can make the impossible probable......


Can-do may be a valuable attribute in most organisations but it must not be a sanction for firefighting to become the core competency.


Do you and your organization practice "can-do", strategic or integrated leadership?

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