This is part of a series about the attributes and behaviors of professionals who have elevated their leadership impact and reached the next level of success. To read previous posts about next-level leadership, please click here.
In my coaching sessions with leaders and high-potentials, I frequently hear comments like this: “My VP has asked me to be more strategic, but I’m not exactly sure what that means—or how to do it.” The lesson here? Companies shouldn’t just assume future leaders understand that concept. Once more current and future leaders grasp and embrace a strategic mindset, they will be poised to move themselves and their companies to the next level.
Shaping strategy is no longer the sole responsibility of executives, and gone are the days when strategic planning happened at a once-a-year retreat where teams gathered to develop and align strategies with the company’s overall objectives, key performance indicators, and strategic drivers. Today, helping to shape strategy is a key imperative for leaders and high potentials who want to be seen as visionary, viable, and valuable.
To be perceived as someone who is strategic, professionals need to exhibit a broad range of competencies: the ability to think strategically, to use various strategic models, to execute strategy, to communicate strategy, and to influence others to support the strategy.
More specifically, what types of behaviors and characteristics can be found among strategic leaders?
• Devote time and energy to big-picture thinking and analysis
• Make decisions that are consistent with the team or organization’s strategic objectives
• Take interest in the strategic objectives and critical success factors of other divisions, departments, or business units
• Translate complex and broad strategies into clear objectives and action plans
• Establish a structure for strategy execution using defined roles, processes, and forums to manage strategy progression
• Use strategic analysis models (or seek out the expertise of a strategic planner) to gain an understanding of the alignment between broad organizational strategies and work unit strategies
• Set direction using rigorous evaluation methods that include data analysis, consideration of alternative strategies, and contingencies for unintended outcomes
• Reflect on the organization’s measurement and technology systems, processes and structure to challenge the status quo and look for opportunities to leverage efficiencies
• Consistently scan the environment (both internal and external) for trends, opportunities, and threats that could give the organization or team a competitive advantage or disadvantage
• Anticipate risks and devise contingency plans to manage them
• Facilitate the exchange of information and perspectives across and among business units
• Encourage teams to reinvent how they work, interact, and prioritize deliverables
• Design strategies that are sometimes counter to prevailing ways of doing things, allowing for disruption and potential course corrections
• Use aspirational language, stories, and visuals to engender strategy commitment and sustain momentum
As you think about these attributes, ask yourself some key questions. As a leader, do I concern myself with day-to-day deliverables and problems? Or do I experiment with new or different ways of doing things? Do my team members understand how their overall objectives support the organizational mission? Do I make decisions that are consistent with the team and organizational strategic objectives?
If you want to become a more strategic leader, consider these suggestions:
• Increase your curiosity level. Having strategic vision requires curiosity and imagination.
• Question more. Don’t settle for doing things the same old way. Ask yourself: what are the implications of changing “X” or what would happen if we no longer did “Y”?
• Make projections. Analyze a number of variables and come up with different scenarios while considering current economic, regulatory, and market conditions.
• Learn from the experts. Identify people in your organization who specialize in strategy, and ask them to teach you. Read books on strategy from industry leaders. Here are a few you might enjoy:
“Becoming a Strategic Leader”
“Leading with Strategic Thinking”
• Take on a strategic assignment. Work on an initiative that looks at new ways of doing things, deals with complex issues, and requires commitment to change.
• Apply for a global or rotational assignment. Working in an unfamiliar part of the organization will help you learn how other divisions of the organization work, give you breadth of knowledge, and expand your thinking about the role of strategy in different contexts.
Do you have other suggestions about ways to become a more strategic leader? What’s the best thing you’ve done to sharpen your strategic skills? I’d love to hear your feedback.