1737 – Leadership with Strategic Thinking Institute’s Rich Horwath

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the Founder & CEO  of Strategic Thinking Institute, Rich Horwath.

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Rich Horwath's Strategic Thinking Institute is a beacon for senior leaders who aspire to think, plan, and act strategically daily. The institute's primary focus is to help these leaders establish a cohesive strategic direction.

Rich emphasizes the importance of a strategy scaffold, which comprises three elements: purpose (mission, vision, values), business model, and plan (goals, objectives, strategies).

Rich provided valuable insights on how leaders can determine whether they are on track with their strategy. He stressed the importance of understanding one's position in the market and tailoring strategies accordingly.

He drew a clear distinction between market leaders, who aim to defend their position and attract new customers, and challengers, who focus on converting new users and capitalizing on the weaknesses of more prominent competitors.

Rich also discussed his approach to strategic coaching and his newest book, “Strategic: The Skill to Set Direction, Create Advantage, and Achieve Executive Excellence.” He emphasized the importance of customizing strategic tools for each team or business based on their specific needs and goals.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Introduction of Rich Horwath and the Strategic Thinking Institute
  • Importance of cohesive strategic direction
  • Elements of a strategy scaffold: purpose, business model, and plan
  • Identifying if leaders are off track or on track with their strategy
  • Different strategies for market leaders and challengers
  • Organizational resistance and the need for employee buy-in
  • Concept of organizational flow and breaking down silos
  • Key message for leaders: setting strategic direction
  • Customizing strategic tools for specific needs and goals
  • Importance of ongoing strategic development and individual coaching
  • Rich's books: “Strategy Man” and “Strategic

About Rich Horwath:

Rich Horwath, CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, is a renowned strategy facilitator, advisor, and coach. As a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, his latest book, “STRATEGIC,” delves into setting direction, creating advantage, and achieving executive excellence.

Over two decades, he's aided over a quarter million leaders in honing their strategic thinking. A former Chief Strategy Officer and strategy professor, Rich has graced ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX TV.

Having crafted 700+ proprietary resources on strategic thinking, he's consulted for significant entities like ESPN, Google, and FedEx. His expertise has earned him acclaim, with Chief Executive Magazine dubbing him the “world's foremost expert on strategic thinking.”

Featured in Fast Company, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review, Rich Horwath's vision is to teach the art of being strategic globally.

About Strategic Thinking Institute:

The Strategic Thinking Institute, led by President and CEO Rich Horwath, is committed to enhancing strategic thinking skills across managerial levels. Their focus is on fostering profit growth, productivity increases, and the establishment of competitive advantages.

With a global reach, STI collaborates with top-tier companies in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region to cultivate strategic thinking, formulate plans, and set direction.

STI offers a comprehensive range of services, including strategy consulting, training, keynote speeches, and counsel. The institute has empowered over 50,000 managers worldwide to bolster their strategic thinking capabilities. Through their strategic initiatives, STI plays a pivotal role in shaping organizational success on an international scale.

Tweetable Moments:

08:55 – “The number one role of a leader is setting strategic direction. If you want to set good direction as a leader, all you have to remember are three A's: acumen, allocation, and action.”

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out  Strategic Thinking Institute website at

Check out  Strategic Thinking Institute on LinkedIn at

Check out Rich Horwath on LinkedIn at

Check out Rich Horwath on Instagram at

Check out Rich Horwath on Twitter at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now. It's Rich Horwath. Rich, you are a New York Times best selling author and strategic thinking. We're going to talk about your book, for sure. You are also the CEO and founder of the Strategic Thinking Institute. Your website is strategy Rich, it's so great to have you.

Josh (00:01:18) - Josh, great to be with you today.

Rich (00:01:19) - I'm a big fan of your work. So excited to chat with you.

Josh (00:01:22) - Yeah absolutely. Well thank you so much. Listen I would love if you wouldn't mind kind of doing some table setting for us and tell us what you do with Sty.

Rich (00:01:30) - Yeah. So I started this company 21 years ago, and it was based on a single question I received. I was facilitating a strategic planning workshop. One of the managers came up at the break and said, hey, I just had my performance review and my boss said, I'm too tactical. I need to be more strategic. How do I do that? And so, Josh, as you know at the time, there are a lot of books on strategy, but they were really around corporate strategy, business unit strategy, not really for the individual leader and senior executives. So what I tried to do over the last 21 years is really create a roadmap for senior leaders to strategically think, plan and act on a daily basis.

Rich (00:02:11) - Too often strategy is like a birthday where it happens once a year. There's a lot of signage and fanfare. We get excited and then it goes away for 11.5 months. So the best leaders I've worked with make strategy and I'm going dialogue about the key business issues.

Josh (00:02:26) - Yeah. What would be some examples of how this might look in the workplace. Right. If someone's kind of stuck in the tactical weeds and it's not truly based on a broader strategy.

Rich (00:02:40) - Right. So what happens is and I worked with a group a couple weeks ago, and one of the interesting things a lot of seasoned veterans in the room, this was the C-suite executives, the CFO, COO, and what they learned in the first hour was they didn't really have alignment on the organization's overall direction. They all had their own functional strategies for their part of the business, but there wasn't a cohesive, strategic direction that put them all on the same page. So in order to elevate your point out of the tactical weeds, they needed to really step back and say, what's our strategy scaffold? And the strategy scaffold is really three things.

Rich (00:03:21) - It's your purpose in the form of mission vision values. It's your business model, how you create, deliver and capture value. And then it's your plan, your goals, your objectives, your strategies or tactics. So we then talked through those elements. And at the end of the day, there is a much more unified understanding of what our direction is.

Josh (00:03:42) - What might be some ways, as leaders, that we might be able to identify if we're off track or on track. When it comes to are we in alignment? Did we actually do anything with this strategy that we came up with? Because I think sometimes, you know, when we're in it or, you know, as a leader sometimes come in, set the sail, and then maybe we're not monitoring KPIs to see, are we actually doing that? But can you help a leader out rich. Right. Josh.

Rich (00:04:15) - Yeah, absolutely. And first of all, you don't need the help because you've done such a great job building your business. So and I've taken notes.

Josh (00:04:21) - No my friend, I do.

Rich (00:04:24) - Well I love the fact that we're both learners. So that's great. But you know, I think in general what a leader needs to first do is understand what your position in the market are. You the leader? Do you have big competitive advantage? Are you a follower? Are you, you know, small fish in the big pond trying to build your brand up? So where are you positioned? Because where your position is going to start to dictate what your potential strategies would look like. You know, if you're a market leader, really what you're looking to do is to defend your position and then also to take new customers that are coming into the market. But if you're a challenger, if you're trying to get to the top of the mountain, really what you're trying to do there is you're trying to convert people who haven't really been in the market before. So what we call new users, and then we're trying to chip away at some of the weaknesses from the bigger competitor.

Rich (00:05:16) - And I like to call that judo strategy, where you're really trying to take the big player strengths and transform those into weaknesses, which becomes advantage for you.

Josh (00:05:25) - What happens? Rich, if we feel like this seems to be pretty solid, strategy like this is data driven. We've gotten a lot of validation that this is the right thing to do, but we encounter organizational resistance.

Rich (00:05:43) - Yeah, Josh, that's a really important one because you can have the best strategy in the world on paper. But if your people aren't implementing it with their resources day in and day out, that's going to take things off track. So the way that you can really get buy in and you need buy in from your mid-level and even your first level people is you've got to have strategy conversations with them. You don't just hand them the PowerPoint deck and say, here's the strategy, go execute. That does not work anymore. What you've got to do is you've got to engage them. And I would recommend either quarterly or twice a year and a half day to full day conversation about the business.

Rich (00:06:20) - And as a senior leader, you want to do that because those folks are the closest to the customer, and they have a pulse on what's changing in the marketplace. And if we know what's changing, then we can be more proactive instead of reactive. So the biggest thing a senior leader can do is to engage people at other levels in strategy conversations on a more regular basis, and really start to get their insights to help form and to calibrate the strategy as we go throughout the year.

Josh (00:06:51) - I saw that you recently posted about organizational flow. Is that what we're talking about?

Rich (00:06:57) - Yeah, exactly. Organizational flow is a big part of it. You know, the reality is our organizations are basically a combination of systems and conversations. And the challenge is after we've been in business for a while, sometimes our systems become bottlenecks and they actually prevent us from being successful. We in many of your listeners probably have experienced times when they've had silos where one group is not really talking to another group, they probably experience fire drills where there's this urgent, you know, flurry of activity, but it's not really important to what's going on in the business.

Rich (00:07:32) - So one of the keys for all you leaders out there is ask yourself about your velocity when it comes to insights and decisions. Velocity is speed in a directed way. And so when it comes to insights, if you're talking to your middle and junior level leaders on a regular basis and then taking their learnings, there's insights and then sharing them across the organization. Now we've got a powerful learning system that we're developing. And then the second piece around velocity is a leader is decision making. Sometimes as leaders, we feel like we want to be involved in every decision. It's hard to let go and to delegate. But the best leaders understand that in order to increase decision velocity, we've got to be able to delegate to our people.

Josh (00:08:20) - Yeah, Rich, if let's say someone's been they've been a little distracted as they've been listening to a conversation. And I want to maybe have you share this right. And doing what you do. And you've been doing this for decades, based on some of the observations and some of the biggest pain points that you see among the clients that you work with today, if you were to say, listen, if you don't remember anything else from what I've, what I've been sharing with you today, it's very important that you and kind of give us one minute Ted talk here on, you know, the most important thing that leaders need to be aware of today and implement on.

Rich (00:08:55) - While research has shown that the number one role of a leader is setting strategic direction, and if you want to set good direction as a leader, all you have to remember are three A's, right? Let's keep it easy. Three A's acumen, allocation and action acumen is the new value. What's the new value that you and your team are bringing to your internal and external customers acumen? First, second, then is allocation based on the new value we want to bring. How do we configure our resources, our time, our people and our money in order to bring that value to the market and in part of allocation is your trade offs. What are you choosing not to do? So you can focus where you're most successful. And then that third A is action. Action is the discipline as a senior leader, to keep your team focused on what's important and not get distracted by the urgent. So they should always have 1 to 3 priorities.

Josh (00:10:01) - Yeah. That's brilliant right there. So do our friend. That's listening.

Josh (00:10:04) - Go back. Relisten to that again. Write all that down. That was solid. You rich have worked with clients like ESPN, Google, Intel, Fedex, L'Oreal. What does engagement look like? I'm curious. And I suspect here's what we know about the thoughtful entrepreneur. A lot of people find our episodes down the road after they're researching for topics, or maybe even your name. Right? And so they might be curious about what does it look like to actually work with Rich. How can you help us within our organization?

Rich (00:10:36) - Well, yeah. Thanks, Josh. Appreciate that. So the two main prongs I would say are collective development and individual development. So collective development means you as a senior team meeting at least on a quarterly basis. Not about operations, not about tactics, not about the calendar but about strategic direction. And you carve out a half to full day with your senior team around strategic direction. And typically, I come in and facilitate those conversations with a handful of tools and techniques that are customized.

Rich (00:11:11) - There's about 200 tools, so we want to customize and select the 3 to 5 that are most appropriate for your team, where your business is in the competitive landscape and the market aspirations that you have, and then following those quarterly collective interactions. Then typically, I meet individually with individual leaders as an advisor and coach to work with them on specific skill set development. So it might be things like emotional intelligence, succession planning, developing a mission driven culture, strategic planning, whatever it might be, but for those individual needs, because everybody's needs are different. And again, you know, Josh, the thing I talk about a lot is strategic fitness. You know, if we run once a year for two miles, we're not going to be physically fit. It's not going to happen. But a lot of people approach strategy that way. They do strategy once a year for a day and hope they're going to be strategic. It doesn't work that way. So we need to have individual collective conversations and development to make sure that we're at the top of our game strategically.

Josh (00:12:15) - I want to talk about some of your recent books here. And no joke, I mean, you write bestsellers. You have quite the the following here. But, you know, some of them. Strategy man. It's strategy man versus the ante strategy. Is that your newest book?

Rich (00:12:31) - That's my newest book. I've got another one coming out this fall which will be strategic. The skill to set direction, create advantage and achieve executive excellence. So that'll be coming out later this fall. So keep an eye out for that. But yes, Strategy Man came out a few years ago. I'm proud. It's the first ever graphic novel on business strategy and really a fun way. 180 pages of a lot of content around strategy, but in a fun, story driven format.

Josh (00:13:00) - Yeah. So strategic, which again, is upcoming here and this is published by Wiley Strategic. The skill to set direction, create advantage and achieve executive excellence by the time this episode publishes or by the time certainly our friend is listening to this conversation that should be available.

Josh (00:13:18) - Rich, I know you know what this book is all about. What would you expect the transformation to take place from the reader as they read and implement what is inside strategic?

Rich (00:13:29) - Yeah. So Gallup and we're all familiar with Gallup. They do a lot of great research. They've interviewed 30 million managers over the last few decades. And what they found was only 22% of managers felt that their senior leadership team set clear strategic direction, only 22%. So the reality is there's a lot of businesses out there that need help navigating. And so this book provides a simple framework. If you think of a compass with four areas strategy, leadership, organization and communication. So you as a senior leader, there's about 200 different tips, tools, techniques within those four areas to help you navigate all aspects of your business, from the competitive landscape to, again, building things internally from process systems and culture. So it's a really comprehensive book based on my strategic coaching work with CEOs from the last ten years. Yeah.

Josh (00:14:27) - Richard, your website, strategy skills, you have all of your books and courses there, but I see the also offer workshops, facilitation and executive coaching to our friend listening.

Josh (00:14:41) - It's like I'm interested in learning more about that. What would you recommend their next steps be?

Rich (00:14:46) - Yeah. So first of all, take a look around the site. I'm really proud of the fact that we've got, you know, nearly 100 free resources on that website videos.

Josh (00:14:56) - It's a very rich website. Well thank.

Rich (00:14:58) - You Josh. Appreciate that. And that's means a lot coming from you because you've done such a great job with the podcast in your business. So I appreciate that. So, you know, again take a look at the free resources, the articles, the white papers, the infographics. You know, my goal is to take strategy from this theoretical textbook world. And really bring it down to how do we use it day in and day out to outthink and to outperform our competition? So once you've read some of that information, just simply send us a contact us form and we'll follow up right away to to set up a chat to see if we could be of service.

Josh (00:15:33) - You know, I also want to put a plug in for your newsletter on LinkedIn.

Josh (00:15:36) - You have over 3000 subscribers. It's called Strategic Thinker. It's a newsletter for C-suite executives published by you and your team and super, super high value content. That's absolutely free. I recommend I just subscribed, I just going through some of your content rich. This is really, really good actionable stuff. Very well researched too, I might add.

Rich (00:15:59) - Thanks, Joshua. You know, again, to me, we've got to be able to take the concepts and the foundation of strategy going back 2500 years ago to Sun Tzu, the Chinese general philosopher who had the book the Art of War. Take all of that information and really distill it down into what do you, as a senior leader, need to know to be better tomorrow to run your business? That's what it's all about. And that's what my articles, my books and so forth are really about is let's make strategy practical and usable day to day.

Josh (00:16:31) - Yeah. Rich Horwath again, founder and CEO of Strategic Thinking Institute. Your website is strategy Rich, it's been a pleasure.

Josh (00:16:40) - Congratulations on the launch of your new book. It's called Strategic the Skill to Set direction, Create advantage and Achieve Executive Excellence. Rich Horowitz, thank you so much for joining us.

Rich (00:16:50) - Josh. I've been a big fan of yours for a while, so thanks. It was an honor to chat with you.

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