Albu On Strategy

What Does a Strategic Leader Look Like?

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 how. Some feel a few hours a week is enough to be a strategic leader. Others might believe that an annual retreat with key managers is the answer. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking because real strategy is more than brainstorming ideas to solve issues.

In today’s world filled with uncertainty, leaders need to possess specialized behaviors to successfully adapt their business models to an ever-changing environment.  They need to anticipate shifts in the marketplace, challenging long held assumptions, interpreting varied data from multiple sources, and make strategic choices under unproven conditions. It also requires that leaders bring clarity to a new direction and engage the organization.

Last month’s blog referred to the book Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking is Your Best Short-Term Strategy (See July 2018 Blog).  In another book Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future, the authors,  Steen Krupp and Paul Shoemaker, based their data on more than 20,000 interviews, and identified six disciplines to make CEOs better strategic leaders. They supply the “what and how” executives 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 disruptions.
  2. Challenge– Test assumptions and the status quo. Seek out employees, advisors, and suppliers who think differently 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 collect differing viewpoints. Build observational skills, just like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, to amplify signs about the data around you. Become adept at moving easily between details and the big picture. Learn to connect the dots from multiple sources to form a better strategic choice.
  4. Decide– Act after examining the options. Do not dwell over the decisions. Strike the right balance between bravely moving forward and coolly exploring options. Bravely moving forward requires resilience to commit to a solution and, if unsuccessful, pull back and reconsider.
  5. Align– Line up the interests and incentives of stakeholders. Capture their hearts and minds. Rally key players to a common vision, mission and strategy. Next, bridge differences to resolve conflicts among stakeholders. Finding common ground is critical to ensuring alignment with stakeholders.
  6. Learn–Test small bets to improve your business model and examine these experiments to learn from your successes and failures. Encourage a learning environment where employees can try new ideas and share their experiences.

Become a strategic leader by considering these six disciplines. Have the self-discipline to continually practice them as if you would master playing golf or learning to play the guitar. Let us know what you think and share with us your experiences as a strategic leader.

Posted in Book Reviews, Leadership, Newsletter, Strategy Development.