A Path to Becoming a Strategic Leader

Strategy tends to take a back seat in the lives of many senior executives. It’s not that they don’t want to be more strategic, rather, they are not sure of how. Some feel that if they spend a few hours a week, they will become better strategic leaders. Others might believe that an annual retreat with key managers is the answer. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking because strategy is more than brainstorming ideas and solving for critical issues.

In today’s world filled with uncertainty, for owners, CEOs and their management teams to be successful they must be able to adapt their business models to an ever changing environment; by anticipating shifts in the marketplace, challenging long held assumptions, interpreting varied data from multiple sources, and making strategic choices under unproven conditions. It also requires that leadership bring clarity to a new direction and get the organization back on track.

In the book Winning the Long Game, which was based on data from more than 20,000 leaders, the authors Steen Krupp and Paul Shoemaker have identified six disciplines to make CEOs better strategic leaders. They supply the “what and how” senior leaders need to be successful in navigating an environment of greater uncertainty. Here are the six disciplines to improve your strategic leadership:

1. Anticipate – Expect changes in your markets by staying closely connected with customers, clients, partners, and competitors. Develop skills such as customer intimacy, war-gaming and peripheral scanning to help you anticipate disruption sooner.

2. Challenge – Test assumptions and the status quo, seek out employees, advisors, and suppliers who think out of the box and are open to new ideas. How often do you question people’s assumptions? Are you comfortable with conflicting views and differences of opinion?

3. Interpret – Broaden your sources of data and viewpoints and avoid looking for information that confirms current beliefs. Build observational skills just like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes to amplify signals in the data around you, and become adept at moving easily between specific details and the big picture. Learn to connect the dots from multiple sources to form a better strategic choice.

4. Decide – Take action after examining the options. Do not dwell over the decision making process. Making tough decisions is the most difficult leadership challenge. To be ready for the challenge, you need to strike the right balance between bravely moving forward and coolly exploring options. You need the wisdom, composure and outlook to consider the alternatives available to be successful in exploring options. Bravely moving forward requires resilience to commit to the right solution and, if unsuccessful, pull back and reconsider.

5. Align – Line up the interests and incentives of stakeholders. Capture their hearts and minds. You need to rally key players to a common vision, mission and strategy. Next, bridge differences to resolve conflicts among stakeholders. Being able to find common ground will be critical to ensuring alignment with stakeholders who may have different objectives.

6. Learn –Make small bets to improve your business model, and deeply examine these experiments to learn from your successes and failures. You need to encourage a learning environment where employees are willing to try new ideas and share their experiences.

Find your path to becoming a strategic leader by considering these six disciplines as a body of knowledge that you need to master. Have the self-discipline to continually practice them as if you would master playing golf or learning to play the guitar. These six disciplines will help you remove the barriers in becoming a strategic leader. Let us know what you think and share with us your experiences regarding strategic leadership.