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Updated: Oct 16, 2023

President Putin has failed on many levels – organisational, strategic and geopolitical, to name just three. If I were his executive coach, business strategist and geopolitical analyst, what advice would I give?

Not only does Russian President Putin need an executive coach but he also needs a trusted advisor and a good geopolitical analyst (among other things). Despite being all three, I am not volunteering for the role. But, what would I say to him if I had the misfortune to have him as a client?

I would start by explaining that the first steps to building an effective strategy are goal definition and developing robust foundational assumptions about your context.

It is clear that Putin has failed on both accounts.

Putin’s goal definition has wavered more times than I care to count. Neither has he articulated it to his senior executive team. No great surprise then, from a management perspective, that those lower down in his organisation are unable to implement effectively.

It is not even clear whether he, himself, knows what his goal is? If I were to reflect back to him the ‘goalpost tango’ he has been dancing, what might it reveal about himself and his feelings about this endeavour? Is he, in fact, not personally bought into his own goal? Does he feel it is being imposed on him? What is the underlying cause of his erraticism?

Putin failed also in taking the second necessary step in developing a strategy — developing and testing the resilience of your assumptions.

In order to do this, I would have suggested he understand three key drivers about the stakeholders involved — their interests, their will and their capabilities.

With regards to his own interests — not to have what he perceives as an opposing force on his doorstep — while you might disagree with the premise, Putin’s views were understandable. His assessment of Ukraine’s interests, coming as they did from a perception of Russian-allied Ukrainians, he has discovered to be off-kilter. And he wildly misjudged the interests of the West who have taken the long-term view.

As to will, Putin badly underestimated that of his opposing forces, both in Ukraine and the West more broadly, and vastly overestimated that of his own partly-conscripted military force.

All this exacerbates his misunderstanding of his own side’s capabilities. I couldn’t help but ask that he might want to reflect upon the state of psychological safety in his organisation, such that those around him weren’t honest with him about the capacity of their own teams.

From my business advisor’s perch, I would suggest that as he looks ahead, he might want to think about a few areas where his organisation might be strengthened, and tools that might help.

First, in developing a strategy, it is always advantageous to get outside perspectives, to bring some external voices into the mix who might be able to see things with fresh eyes. Don’t, as evidence suggests he did, keep the in-the-loop group so intimate that you have no one who will or can challenge.

Second, if he wants to run a successful organisation, he really needs to work on his internal communications. What is in the culture, or the institutional structure, that prevents open, transparent and effective communication?

Two tools he might consider using in future are red teams and scenario building. Both are very effective at stress-testing strategies and assumptions. Had he implemented either, he might have chosen an entirely different methodology to advance his goals.

I would hope that the current situation might lead him to ask questions about his leadership style. Perhaps I would open this line of thought through one of the myriad of psychometric tests available. What does strong leadership mean to him? Who are his exemplars? What advice might one of them give?

Has he achieved his KPIs? From a geopolitical perspective he has failed dismally. A clear F. Not only has he not achieved his goals but with Finland and Sweden’s likely accession to NATO he’s actually swung the pendulum in the opposite direction.

As a business leader his board would be asking serious questions by now. He might still be ousted by his stakeholders in the coming months and years.

On the coaching side, I would suggest that I need to step down as I have clearly failed him. Or, perhaps, he just wasn’t ripe for coaching.


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