Strategy is big Picture, Tactics are details

Most people will quote the United States Department of Defense Doctrine and definitions, and basically ignore the use of strategy and tactics in politics, business, sports, and anything outside of the military realm.

Strategy is big Picture, Tactics are details.

A Strategist is theoretically focused on “Long Term”

A Tactician is focused on “Short Term”

Both use similar tools, methods, and skills. The only real difference is on focus.

In reality long term big picture and short term details are relative. Honestly for common usage in english for most people, the difference is mostly semantic.


In a boxing match, you have a strategy to beat your opponent for the boxing match. That strategy will be made up of tactics usually starting with pre match assessment, positioning, trash talking, and psychological warfare. In match tactics will be based on a strategy the employs your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.

For example, in the now legendary Holyfield vs Tyson fight years ago – Holyfield knew that Mike Tyson simply punches too hard. The strategy was don’t let him land a punch, just get him tired and frustrated until he makes mistakes that you can exploit. Evander Holyfield employed that winning strategy, that ended when Mike Tyson got so mad he bit off Holyfield’s ear and was disqualified from the fight. Was a boring fight to watch, but a winning strategy, built on the execution of harassment tactics.

For the purpose of a boxing match. The strategy lasts a few minutes. The tactics are a few seconds – like stay outside of his reach, and if he gets to close, hug him so he can’t land a punch, while trash talking to get him distracted, angry, tired.

For the purpose of a war, it gets sticky.

A politician will use a war as a tactic in a geopolitical strategy.

A general will use a campaign as a tactic in a war strategy.

A colonel will use as battle as a tactic in a campaign strategy.

A captain will use a position or maneuver as a tactic in a battle strategy.

A soldier will employ a weapon as a tactic in a maneuver strategy.

A strategy is technically made of tactics. But strategy and tactics define each other like light and dark – they are relative to each other and the perspective of the practitioner. If you are mixing the two together, the US military calls that “operations”.

A marketing strategist, digital strategist, tax strategist, financial strategist and supply chain strategist are all tactical assets of a larger business strategy developed by the CEO and Board. It’s all relative.

A strategic portfolio is made up of tactical projects, yet each project has it’s own strategy.

You can go on with that semantic ad nauseum.

Strategy, operations and tactics are narrowly defined within the context of western military doctrine. Outside of that formal space, the difference between a strategist and a tactician is mostly semantic. I’ve seen strategies that last minutes, and tactical plans that go on for years. It’s all relative.

Despicable as he was, Stalin certainly explains strategy and tactics well. On the strategic level one must stay focused on your overall goal, but on the tactical level, one must be extremely flexible. Also, tactical success can be given up if it does not advance the strategic goals.

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