6 Critical Factors for Effective Strategic Leadership

I always remind my readers and audiences that however talented they are, their CEOs don’t want them to be sales, marketing, HR or tech leaders – CEOs want them to be business leaders with sales, marketing, HR or tech expertise.

It’s more than semantics. It’s a serious reminder that whatever your area of interest or expertise, you need to bring strategic, enterprise-wide insights to your work and to company discussions.

The challenge is to deliver short-term results while securing long-term viability. Strategic leaders start with the external marketplace when addressing problems, without getting wrapped up by internal organizational issues. Then they use their long-term vision to guide their short-term decisions in a flexible way.

6 disciplines

In Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future, authors Steven Krupp and Paul Schoemaker make the point that mastering just a few of these skills is not enough:

“The more uncertain the environment becomes, the more a leader needs these six disciplines in combination because they possess self-reinforcing qualities when deployed as an interdependent leadership system.”

1. Anticipate

Strategic leaders are constantly vigilant, honing their ability to anticipate by scanning the environment for signals of change. They develop and maintain an external mindset. Once a company becomes the master of its own universe, seeing new developments in adjacent markets becomes harder. The paradox is the more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in winning the long game.

How quickly do you spot ambiguous threats and opportunities on the periphery of your business? 

2. Challenge

Strategic leaders question the status quo. Practice promulgating outside perspectives to see complex issues in context, and practice deep self-reflection to confront outmoded beliefs, faulty assumptions, and stubbornness in yourself and others.

Are you comfortable with conflicting views and differences in opinion? How often do you question your own and other people’s assumptions? 

3. Interpret

Strategic leaders amplify signals and connect multiple data points in new and insightful ways to make sense of complex, ambiguous situations. Leaders get blindsided not so much because they aren’t receiving signals but because they aren’t exploring alternative interpretations, or they get locked into one view of the issue.

Can you pick up on signals to distinguish anomalies from leading indicators of change? What are you not seeing or hearing? Begin by recognizing the facts and then rethinking them to expose their hidden implications.

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4. Decide

Strategic leaders seek multiple options to ensure flexible decision-making. They don’t get prematurely locked into simplistic yes/no choices. Exploring options means having the wisdom, cool-headedness, and perspective to consider all the alternatives available. Showing courage means demonstrating the fortitude to commit to the right solution and, if that solution proves ineffective, critically stepping back to reconsider.

How often and how quickly must you make tough calls with incomplete information? 

5. Align

Strategic leaders engage stakeholders to understand change readiness, manage differences and create buy-in. They’re adept at finding common ground. This requires active outreach and good communication. There’s an interconnectedness now in problems—and this changes the issues. You need to have more people involved with the decision making and give up some control.

Do you regularly engage your employees in decisions that affect their work? What’s the quality of your relationships with those you need to influence?

6. Learn

Strategic leaders continuously reflect on successes and failures to improve performance and decision-making. The learning organization still doesn’t have much of a foothold in the business world, despite skyrocketing uncertainty. Leaders must make their moves when the future is still ambiguous. If an organization is continually learning, then everyone is primed for change and ready to move as needed.

When was the last time you admitted you were wrong — in public?

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-m-smith-cpim-crp



2 Comments on “6 Critical Factors for Effective Strategic Leadership

  1. Thank you for such an interesting article about change and leadership. In
    Praxis Centrum S. A., we believe that unless you turn all great ideas into concrete
    steps for action, it does not make sense. Without execution, innovative
    thinking is disoriented, learning does not add value, people and teams do not
    reach their precise goals and the revolution fails at its inception. What you
    get is a change to get worse, because failure depletes the energy of your
    organization. The repetition of failure destroys it.

    That is why there are a number of companies / organizations that are
    less than they could be (poor execution). The difference that no one knows is
    that which exists between what the leaders of an organization want to achieve
    and the capacity of their organization to achieve it. No organization can meet
    its commitments or adapt to change, unless all its leaders practice the
    discipline of execution, every day, at all levels.

    Effectively, facilitating leadership, with its
    collaborative processes, the generation of shared commitments and the use of
    collective intelligence, help a lot –though it’s not enough. However, it is the
    responsibility of the leader to rigorously discuss the how and the what of the
    strategy – it is crucial to recognize that no worthwhile strategy can be
    planned without taking into account the organization’s ability to execute –
    challenge, follow up with tenacity and ensure accountability. This also, as you
    precisely point out, includes making assumptions about the business
    environment, even though assessing the organization’s capacity, linking the
    strategy to operations and people who are going to implement the strategy,
    synchronizing those people and their various disciplines, and linking rewards
    to results remain a challenge


    Luis García


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