Strategic Voice

Strategic Voice – A Review of …

Strategic Planning: An Interactive Process for Leaders

By Dan R Ebener, and Frederick L Smith, 2015, Paulist Press

Strategic Voice  

Looking ahead builds forward momentum.  Post-pandemic we need fresh voices for the future.  This short book offers great ideas for engaging staff and community in strategic thinking and planning.  Note:  Italics indicate quotes and near quotes by the authors.

Strategic Leadership

Strategy the authors say is about leadership.  Structure is about management.  Both are needed.  Change and growth however are about strategy and therefore leadership.  Strategic Planning brings an organization together.  Strategic Thinking breathes new life into action and implementation.  

The authors use a football analogy:  Strategic planning is how the coaches prepare before the game. Strategic planning is necessary but not sufficient. Strategic thinking is what happens once the game begins. The team adjusts the game plan to the realities on the field.  This is … strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking 

Post-COVID we all need strategic thinking.  Here are some of the author’s suggestions:

Change is perpetual. The pace of change is rapidly increasing. Therefore, strategic thinking is becoming ever more critical … and requires:

  • Seeing the big picture
  • Anticipating the next set of big changes
  • Continuous thinking, reflecting, learning  
  • Asking the right questions about the ongoing changes in your external environment
  • Adjusting strategy regularly

Strategic Planning

Whether you are ready for a new strategic plan or not, the authors offer many useful ideas for engaging others and building ownership for the future.  

The Ebener-Smith Strategic Planning Process includes eight steps.  Three phases stood out for me:  

  • Analysis.  Gather data and turn it into “intelligence.”  Sort the data into: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  
  • Priorities.  Engage your planning team in reviewing the data/intelligence.  Then ask them to sort all that information into three high priority questions starting with, “How can we …” 
  • Action Plans: 70-90% of strategic plans are never implemented.  Increase your odds with specifics – who will do what by when?  Crystal clear benchmarks – for 3-6-9-12 months – greatly increase your odds of success. 


These ideas will help with any change … 

  • Maximize Participation: Exclusion is the enemy of ownership. Inclusion is the path to ownership.
  • Unwavering commitment is essential from those in authority.
  • Core values … give meaning and purpose to the process.
  • Focus – Less is more.  Three priorities x three strategies x three actions = 27 new things to work on
  • Anything worth planning is worth doing. Hold quarterly accountability sessions.
  • Task conflict is a good thing … if addressed in timely and productive ways.  
  • Vision:  Great organizations create a shared vision of a destination that excites people.
  • When you cannot see where you are going, you go slower, and with less confidence.
  • Create the vision near the end of the process … when participants can see the road ahead more clearly.

Leadership advice for strategic planning … and/or change at any level:

  • Leaders create change: a change of heart, mind, attitude, or action.
  • Visionary Leaders are Persistent and Forward – Looking
  • Get away from the crisis mode and think strategically
  • Develop a sense of urgency about what is most important.
  • Generate buy – in and support
  • Combine … the idealism of leaders and the realism of managers.
  • Core leadership principle is to … start where people are at the moment.

People are more likely to resist change when …

  1. They are not involved in the change process – therefore, involve more people
  2. They do not trust those in authority – therefore, be trustworthy
  3. The change signifies loss of an important interest – therefore, mitigate loss

Effective Strategic Planning … 

  • Moves the organization in the direction of a shared vision.
  • Gets implemented.
  • Engages consensus and ownership of the eventual plan.

White Water Rafting

The old metaphor for strategic planning was the mountain top retreat.  The new metaphor for strategic work is white water rafting.  Decisions are made quickly based on simple rules, core values, and advance planning.

This Book …

Strategic Planning by Ebener and Smith is a short, engaging book that will provide welcome ideas on strategic planning, strategic thinking, and strategic leadership.  Read this book to expand your leadership reach and strategic voice.  




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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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