How Leaders Know The Difference Between Strategies And Tactics

Jim Egerton      Monday, October 16, 2017

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Previously, we discussed how important it is to have the right leadership style in place for your business. Your leadership style should be based on the phase of your business and be transformational in the startup phase, situational in the growth phase, and results-based during the final disposition of the enterprise.

A leader must also be able to generate strategies the company needs to sustain success while taking advantage of tactics that appear during their business game. In the premier issue of FUNNEL magazine, Hawk Mikado made a valiant attempt at defining these terms and their differences. He said, “A strategy is a sequence of events that you have planned out for the long term. A tactic is something that you plan on doing right away.”


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He clarified it with the example of developing a funnel as a strategy and using Facebook ads as a tactic to implement that strategy.  I’d like to clarify those terms even more by adopting one-word definitions for strategy, candidate moves, strategic thinking, and tactics. Having played competitive chess for decades, I have used these terms repeatedly and found them simple to recall and implement. They have also helped me be successful in my corporate career and while running my own business.

Strategy - Choice

My one-word definition of strategy is choice. The strategy is the choice of actions available to you given the situation. In business, it might be growing your company through organic growth or by acquisition. Or growing the company up to a level to be acquired and cashing out.  In chess it might be: I want to attack my opponent’s king and deliver a winning checkmate. Or it might be: I want to consolidate my position and prevent my opponent’s attack. But the keyword here is - it’s your choice. If you don’t have a choice then it’s just a requirement. Companies might devise ways to lower their taxes but it’s not a choice to skip paying them altogether. Once viable strategies are in place, and what do you do to implement them? That leads to our next valuable term.

Candidate Moves - Possibilities

This term is borrowed directly from the game of chess. When play is in progress and the strategy of attacking the opponent's king is being implemented, a player must determine which moves are the best to accomplish that objective. The one-word definition of candidate moves is possibilities. What possibilities should we consider in implementing our strategy? Should we advance a pawn to weaken the opponent’s castle, trade off a piece to remove the defenders, bring our last piece into the attack to create an overwhelming force?



In business, to grow our company candidate moves might be to build a sales force for direct sales, develop a funnel using Facebook ads, or utilizing a joint venture with a partner that will be more beneficial than doing everything ourselves. In chess, the player will generally find two or maybe three useful moves that should be considered if they are not reacting to an immediate threat on the board. Once candidate moves have been determined it’s time to consider and evaluate them and that leads us to our next term: strategic thinking.

Strategic Thinking - Analysis

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Peter Wehner, who worked in the past three Republican administrations, said of the current White House: “There is no strategic thinking. There’s no competent execution. It’s just a free-for-all.” 1

Pretty scary stuff, although the current president has been pictured playing chess with his son and his wife, has said chess is a wonderful game for children. My one-word definition of strategic thinking is analysis. It’s the analysis of the candidate moves you previously selected, determining which one is the best and committing to act on that choice. So in chess, pushing that pawn into the enemy fortress is the best move to make.  How do you know for sure, enter the game into a grandmaster-level playing computer and it will figure it out for you?

In business, we all know that developing a sales funnel is the best move to make for an entrepreneur who wants to get more clients. But just saying I will do it doesn’t get the job done, you have to act on the choice and make the move. In chess, you make your move, hit your chess clock and watch your opponent start to squirm as they realize what they are facing. And last but not least is the valuable possibility of tactics.


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Tactics - Opportunities

This term, in particular, tends to get more credit than is due. My one-word definition of tactics is opportunity. Tactics are business opportunities that become available through the placement of your resources. In chess, it’s through the placement of your pieces. In business and chess, tactics are not always available - they have to be detected in the moment, evaluated and acted upon or they will disappear.  Wall Street traders have to see a possible trade, evaluate it quickly or it will be gone if it is valuable. In chess, all the tactics have names so they are easy to teach.  In my book, I discuss twelve tactics like, overworked piece, desperado, skewer, double attack, and interference, which all occur in business.

An important part of a tactical opportunity is to evaluate its merits. Investing with Bernie Madoff was a financial opportunity that, if evaluated with a “trust but verify” mindset, would have sent all of his potential investors running in the opposite direction. Having the opportunity to initially invest in Facebook or Amazon was risky at the time but it looks brilliant now. Companies sometimes have a department that looks and analyzes ahead of time how to act if an opportunity comes along. Almost like a prepared variation in chess that is analyzed at home and not while you are sitting at the board thinking. To an entrepreneur, an opportunity might be facing a “shark” that wants 10% of your business for some much-needed cash. Is it worth taking? Who knows but it sure makes for interesting television.

In chess if a tactic exists in the position, is detected, analyzed and played, it can win the game on the spot. Two issues ago, I related how Magnus Carlsen executed a brilliant checkmate in two moves against Sergey Karjakin to retain his world champion title in 2016.  He sacrificed his queen using a decoy tactic available in the position against his opponent. If Sergey captured the queen he would be checkmated on the next move. Of course, his opponent resigned after the move.

Next Issue: Leadership – Understanding strategies to use in a business startup or opening. Knowing how to get your business going from the beginning could determine success or failure. What strategies do chess players use? Follow those and you will be running your business like a grandmaster.


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