Alex Pilkington and I created a Leadership Development Mastermind so we could help leaders step into their roles with utmost confidence and the best foresight to lead others. With that in mind, we found that casting a strategic vision is imperative to being able to effectively and powerfully lead others. In this article, I will reveal why Strategic Leadership is important and why we have chosen strategic leadership as the first quality of our curriculum.
The ability to look ahead with foresight and perspective can make the difference between surviving and striving or failing miserably. Kodak is a clear example of this because its leaders ignored the threat and opportunity of the digital world, and the consequences have left a shell of the former company. Effective strategic leadership could have saved the company.
What is a Strategic Leader?
Where the strategic leader differs from a typical leader is in their ability to anticipate future trends and needs and then communicate the benefits and a course of action to a diverse audience that inspires action. A strategic leader is as equally effective at building coalitions as other leaders. However, they also tend to possess an advanced ability to maintain focus on two dynamic planes simultaneously – the current reality and the future of possibility. This ability helps them to maintain focus and clarity on the big picture and the goals while also being based on reality.
Leaders tend to be skilled in one of the two planes and operate effectively within that framework. The challenge is learning and becoming effective in both to accomplish your vision. As a strategic leader, your goal is to holistically prepare your organization for whatever the future has in store. To do this successfully, a strategic leader has to be like Merlin the Wizard, having one foot in the present while also being able to see into, anticipate and predict the future. The best leaders see how to take advantage of unseen opportunities or avoid risks, enabling them to navigate your organization appropriately and realize your vision.
Next, in order for action to happen in a manner that is focused and purposeful, a strategic leader must be a skilled and effective communicator who can inspire others to jump on the crazy train and buy in completely to the vision, mission and purpose, making it their own mission.
And last but certainly not least in the strategic leadership process is execution. The best plans in the world are no good unless they are put into action. Making sure that the team is not only clear on the path forward but also clear on their role is critical to success. The best leaders make sure the message is carried out from top to bottom in an empowering manner.
Strategic leadership is both aspirational as well as inspirational and encompasses skills and abilities that you can develop over time and hone through various methods, including coaching. But to do this will require a level of humility so you can learn from previous attempts and from others and adapt and apply those lessons to your situation. A higher degree of emotional intelligence and a strong commitment to embracing change are also needed.
Success occurs when you effectively envision the future, interpret and define it, build coalitions and communicate it to those around you!
Below are some elements to consider when we reach some sort of crossroads that demand that we carefully evaluate our options.
Our purpose is at the heart of who we are. For companies, this means creating mission and vision statements. The trick here is to make sure that this translates down to the entire staff. Simon Sinek has an informative article explaining how to create an active and intentional mission statement. The key element is that the mission statement starts with “I believe…” This applies to us as people as well – taking the time to understand what our driving force is can be an invaluable exercise. Once we know that, the paths we want to take can become much clearer. Getting clear on what drives us to get up in the morning. Putting the customer or others first as part of the mission incorporates servant leadership as a key value. Kodak mistakenly made its product more important than the customer’s needs, which led to its downfall.
The more carefully we consider all aspects of the situation and become as aware as possible of potential blind spots, the more successfully we will navigate that fork in the road. Asking ourselves what will happen at different points in the future will help us imagine different outcomes. Paying attention to trends that pertain to our situation will also be helpful. What technological changes are on the horizon? What could change with or for the people around you? Asking as many questions as possible will help us think through scenarios we might have missed.
After you’ve done your evaluation, it’s probably time to make decisions and take action. There are many quotes on the danger of delaying decisions. This one by George Canning is my favourite: “Indecision and delays are the parents of failure”. Waiting for the right time to make a decision often means that opportunities are lost. Hoping that things will change is the path to frustration. Being honest and clear about the actions that are best are worthless unless the changes needed are actually made.
Creativity and Enthusiasm
The attitude with which we look for solutions and toward the future makes all the difference. A positive attitude allows for more creativity, energy and openness to new ideas. Negative thinking leaves us feeling drained, closed and discouraged. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. Going into a situation convinced we will succeed gives us a significantly better chance of coming out ahead of the situation. Doing what we need to do to keep up our energy also helps. We are all too aware that the consequences of handling difficult situations can bring on feelings of being draggy and lethargic, which makes us feel ineffective and powerless. This has a direct and negative effect on our ability to find that innovative answer we are looking for.
Here are a couple of quick tips for ways to increase your own strategic thinking:
- Take time to reflect. We are often so busy doing that that we don’t take time to dream and plan.
- Observe and engage with others in leadership positions outside of your company and industry to get a broader perspective.
- Read books, blogs, white papers, listen to a podcast, YouTube, etc., to continue the flow of knowledge and ideas.
- Do something unrelated to work that re-energizes you- exercise, time away, meditate.
- Engage a coach and/or mentor with applicable experience.