A quick look at any thesaurus says tactical and strategic are interchangeable. Maybe in some cases they are, but in business there’s a difference. Especially when it comes to where and how executives spend their time.

Tactical describes a means to an end and involves the actual steps necessary to achieve goals. Strategic is more about the overall plan and the big decisions that determine the tactical approach.

Think of it this way:  Strategic is doing the right things; tactical is doing things right.

Too often, executives come to my office feeling frustrated and overworked, chained to an avalanche of emails, texts, meetings, etc. with everyone wanting some of their time. That kind of ongoing daily pressure is emotionally and physically draining.

Whenever people tell me they feel overworked, I first ask if they’re working on one big project such as an acquisition, adding a new location or office, etc. If they respond “no,” I’ve learned to question them on where and how they’re spending their time.

Inevitably I find that the overworked executive is immersed in day-to-day stuff and/or they are not delegating duties. They’re doing tactical work instead of being strategic.

The executive’s real job is not doing the work but holding others accountable to doing that work. The executive is responsible for making sure the work gets done and the business is achieving its overall goals.

This chart lists several positions in a typical company along with optimal breakdowns of tactical work and strategic planning or supervision for each position.

PositionTacticalStrategic
CEO5%95%
President10% - 15%85% - 90%
Division Manager25%75%
Manager50%50%
Supervisor80%20%
Front line employee100%0%

Looking at my overworked, overwhelmed executives, often we find they are spending their time doing the work that someone at a lower level of management should be doing. Maybe they are not delegating (or are taking back work) because they’ve lost confidence in one or more managers or employees. I get that. It happens. Sometimes just doing the job themselves is the easiest solution; after all, these executives got where they are because of their quality of work, their sense of urgency, and their overall capabilities and value to the company. Still, it’s not the right thing to do.

A better strategy is to always push work down to the lowest level where it can be accomplished effectively. Try this:  Take a look at each item on your own to-do list, and ask yourself, “Is there someone else who could do this and maybe even grow from the experience?” Start systematically delegating from your own to-do list.

If you’re doing work because of someone else’s lack of performance, stop it! That’s a temporary solution to what might be a permanent or bigger problem.  If someone’s not performing at an acceptable level, consider coaching, counseling or training them to get there. If that doesn’t work, harsher measures might be in order. Compensating for an employee’s weakness is not good for the employee, the team, the company or you.

Take a look at the chart, see where you are in your own organization and ask yourself some hard questions. Are you spending your time wisely when it comes to tactical and strategic work? Does the breakdown describe how you’re working right now, or are some adjustments in order? Are you compensating for others, enabling underperformers and doing the work they should be doing? Mismanaging your people and needlessly increasing your own workload—working harder rather than smarter—will cause you undue stress and frustration.

Be an effective executive, and stay true to doing what you do best. Remember that your highest value to the organization lies in your strategic strengths. Let others do the tactical stuff.