Lone Wolf Strategist

Episode 59: The Fallacy Of The Lone Wolf

The idea of being the lone wolf is an attractive one for the strategist. As generalists whose skills are in high demand, it is easy to feel like a singular talent whose best path would be as a sole contributor. This idea is a mistake.

We have actively explored the fact that the skill set we bring and cultivate as strategists is an unusual combination of digital expertise and business acumen. In an industry of specialists, we are the generalists that pull the various elements together. We combine media, creativity, design, content and data with an understanding of business requirements, human dynamics and client politics. This combination of skills means that we are highly sought after, and this often breeds arrogance. The arrogance that you are better than your peers. The arrogance that you don’t need your colleagues. And the arrogance that you can do it all alone.

At some point in our careers as strategists we all feel the intoxicating attraction of being a lone wolf. What’s not to like? You get to work on your own terms, at your own pace, and get recognized and rewarded directly based on your work. Lone wolves work as external consultants, providing valuable insights and direction to organizations that would otherwise be rudderless in an ocean of digital detritus without them.

Lone wolves also work within organizations, sitting on the sidelines, firing shots across the boughs of their colleagues. The lone wolf gets all the credit for the development of the strategy, but has none of the responsibility for the implementation.

But what makes the path of the lone wolf so attractive is also the reason why they never stay in a place for very long. Sitting inside an organization taking potshots at the work of others is not going to endear you to them. People grow resentful of receiving criticism from unaccountable colleagues. This makes them less likely to implement the strategies developed by the lone wolf, which over time makes it increasingly difficult for the strategist to articulate the value they have delivered to the organization.

This tension is accentuated when the strategist is working as an external consultant. Their distance from the organization makes it even less likely that their ideas get implemented, and it is easier to part ways when they fail to deliver value.

At the heart of the idea of the lone wolf is the misconception that the value you deliver depends on you alone. We are only as good as the work that is implemented by the broader team. Without the work of our colleagues, our ideas and contributions are worthless. Further, it is not the role of the strategist to come up with all the ideas, but rather to ask the questions that facilitate others putting forward ideas. This industry moves too quickly to allow long term work as a sole contributor, isolated from others. I rely almost entirely on my colleagues for daily inspiration. When I drift away too far and too long, that is when my ideas become generic and tired.

Finally, the idea of the lone wolf overlooks the fact that people, like wolves are social animals. We need the company and support of others in order to thrive. We need the human element to grow. The most effective strategist runs with the pack, not alone.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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