What can we learn from business and other walks of life about heartfelt strategies to drive your sense of purpose in job and career this year?


One of my Christmas presents was a book by former New Labour strategist, Alastair Campbell, called Winners. Love him or loathe him, I found it entertaining and insightful. He interviewed many well-known leaders in the fields of politics, business, and sport to compare similarities and differences between their approaches to strategy, leading, teams and winning. They included Angela Merkel, Anna Wintour, and Jose Mourinho.

Campbell highlights the common category error in business of mixing up strategies with tactics. Jargon and different definitions can get in the way of common understanding. The interplay between the two is dynamic. Yet, lack of flexibility and adaptation derails the best-laid plans. 

StrategyCampbell puts forward a three-part approach – a simple Objective (what you want to achieve), clear and consistent Strategies (to achieve the objective) and a range of Tactics (to get things done). For example:

  • When Steve Jobs took over at Apple, the business objective was ‘Survive’. The strategy was ‘Simplification’ (because people were confused by the number of products). The tactics included focusing on design before engineering.
  • Sir Clive Woodward’s objective when he led the England rugby team was ‘to win the World Cup’. The strategy was ‘Excellence’ (every individual and part of the organisation to be the best they can be, changing the culture). The tactics included recruiting players with the right mindset and attention to detail.
  • In 1997, the Labour Party’s objective was ‘to win the General Election’. The strategy was ‘Modernisation’ (because the public had rejected the past model). The tactics were things like abandoning Clause 4 (the party’s traditional commitment to nationalising the economy), education as the number one priority and pledge cards.

Applying the learning

Many of my coaching clients struggle with being clear about their objective. Exploring to identify their objective is the objective for some. What people say they want – like a new job or a career change – often masks a more heartfelt objective like a sense of purpose or mastery or autonomy. Therefore, investing in the process of clarifying and articulating your objective is a process that allows you to shape your strategies. Tactics without an objective and strategies risk becoming scattergun activities in the hope of finding what you want (for example, a reliance on using job boards).

Strategy and tactics are all very well, but they are meaningless if the drive and discipline are not there to enact them. Alastair Campbell

Lastly, the Winners’ strategies have clear links to values and aspirations. Your personal values are the most powerful drivers of what you want to achieve. Identify, understand and use them as rocket fuel to drive your actions, maintain momentum and increase your chances of success.

Personal strategies: a helpful exercise

Unswerving focus on strategy can be found among successful leaders in all walks of life. Alastair Campbell

An exercise I find motivating is to pick my three words for the coming year to give me focus and energy. They feed a sense of purpose, are easy to remember and yet have depth. I think they equate to Campbell’s definition of strategy.Strategies

For example, greater balance in my life was a personal objective last year. My three words were Breathe, Adventure, and Legacy. Each had a particular meaning for me and no-one else. Tactically, I joined a running club and did less, went on an amazing trip to Cambodia and wrote 20,000 words of a family memoir. Balance achieved.

What are your 3 words for the coming year to drive your focus and energy?

Reset your mind

A final thought. This post has focused primarily on the future with nods to the present and the past. Where do you tend to focus: past, present or future?

  • StrategiesPast-focused: enjoying the cathartic experience of reflecting on the year’s highs, lows, and personal learning journeys to derive insights.
  • Present-focused: switching off from reflecting and planning, simply being or immersing yourself in doing.
  • Future-focused: setting broad, motivational goals and personal intentions or detailed plans.

The balance between the three mindsets at any given time is personal to each of us, our preferences and cultural context. Check out your time perspective with this free online inventory.

Where does the balance lie for you? What difference would altering the balance make?