"I would rather have great execution and mediocre strategy than the other way around."
I have heard this so often, and in fact used to be one of those people that would pound the table and repeat the above statement. What I have come to realize is that with mediocre strategy I had mediocre companies, mediocre talent, mediocre financing and at best mediocre results.
Execution is what we can really see, feel, and experience so we migrate to basing our judgments on execution. Of course since we as leaders all think our strategies are really good when things are not going well we like to point to the execution as the problem. Statements like, "If people would just do what they say", or "we need people who get it", and the list goes on, are indicative of leaders not taking responsibility for a strategy that can not be effectively executed.
A number of organizations and leaders all fall into the trap of thing that the strategy is the goal. For example I often hear something to the effect "Our strategy is to offer the lowest price with the best customer service." This is not a strategy, strategy is how you are going to do this and a good strategy is how you are going to do it in a way that no one can compete with you at it.
Strategy is tough work, much tougher than execution, in fact the harder you work at your strategy the easier your execution. I can say that a day of good strategy work with one of our projects or clients is much more exhausting than a solid day of yard work.
The solution: Execution without strategy is just "doing" and "doing" successful tasks is different that being successful. Understand that strategy and execution are not two different things. Strategy is part of what you need to execute and it needs to be worked at, examined and adjusted/tweaked every single day. IF your team or you are not executing well the first thing you should do is examine your strategy – in detail.
Click here for a well written article by Ken Favaro, Evan Hirsh and Kasturi Rangan that delves further into the strategy vs. execution debate, and offers some solid examples why one alone is no better than another.