3 Steps to Becoming a Strategic Leader

Strategy is a key component of management and executives at any company want to know that their top-level managers have the ability to think strategically. Executing that strategy requires buy-in from staff, and successful leadership capabilities as well. Strategic leaders are able to inspire a shared vision, and maximize efficiency in the implementation process.

When thinking of the most sustainable, honest, trustworthy businesses in our age today, it is difficult not to picture the leader behind the organization. Tim Cook, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are just a few examples of charismatic leaders today. The reason behind a majority of success these leaders and their companies have, is the ability to think strategically, and lead their company accordingly.

Being a strategic leader is one of the most important characteristics of successful companies who work to build long-term growth and sustainability. Strategic leaders are in touch with many thought processes required to both enable those around them, drive successful outcomes, and adapt to change. Ireland and Hitt (2005) define strategic leadership as, “a person’s ability to anticipate, envision, maintain flexibility, think strategically, and work with others to initiate changes that will create a viable future for the organization” (p. 63).

1. Devote time to strategic planning

It is imperative that a strategic leader have and maintain high cognitive function. The reason for this, as Rainey (2013) states, is because, “leaders have to be personally engaged in high-level strategic thinking like determining the strategic direction; in critical roles and responsibilities like assuring proper corporate governance; and in the company’s systems, structures, and performance” (p. 2). Here are some steps to the strategic planning process:

  • Start from the outcome and work backwards – Figure out what your goals are, or envision the final result. What happened previously to lead to that specific outcome? Lead this thought process all the way back to where you are now.
  • Organize your thoughts – Keep a journal, log, or digital list of the thoughts that occur to you throughout this process. Even though they may not work now, they may be useful at another stage of the process.
  • Create to-do lists – End each day by creating tasks to accomplish for the next day. Start the next day by prioritizing tasks, and then begin.
  • Seek input from stakeholders – Get ideas and input from those around you, coworkers, managers, and other departments to create diversity of ideas. This will enable innovation and creativity!

2. Create a shared Vision

The most important factor for a strategic leader, is the ability to inspire and vision that is shared across the organization. Getting buy-in to the direction of the company will enable success from individual departments or individual staff, and motivate them to complete operational tasks. When staff understand WHY they are completing these tasks, strategic goals will be accomplished. From there, leaders can measure outcomes of these goals with the established vision, and adjust as necessary. To create a shared vision, leaders must consider:

  • Purpose
  • Values
  • Mission statement
  • Goal-setting
  • Measurement and evaluation

3. Focus on leadership in your daily routine

The process of implementing strategic leadership relies on the leadership component. When focused on strategy, leaders must:

  • Communicate – Great leaders not only communicate their purpose, but are expert listeners. Studies show that while active listening is the most engaging and positive listening style, that passive listening invites the most truthful and transparent discussions.
  • Diversify the workplace – Diversity is not about appearance. The entire purpose of diversity, is to diversify ideas and processes. When you engage with people who have perceived differences from you, working together to accomplish goals can enable innovation and creativity to the highest degree.
  • Encourage positive conflict – Conflict is a process that can be negative and positive. When managing conflict, remain objective and encourage solution/based thinking, in order to inspire positive outcomes. Conflict negates complacency, so use it positively!
  • Management Process: Operational Tasks —> Strategic Goals —> Measure Outcomes —> Make Changes
  • Evaluate outcomes in regard to the shared vision

Strategic leaders are able to combine the best factors of strategy and successful leadership together to lead a company and its employees with an informed and inspiring message, while enabling the tools they need to be both successful and sustainable.

References

Ireland, R. D., Hitt, M. A. (2005). Achieving and maintaining strategic competitiveness in the 21st century: The role of strategic leadership. Academy of Management Executive. Vol. 19, No. 4. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&sid=ea0b58df-ca66-4cb7-8240-dbaa50e67d13%40sdc-v-sessmgr04

Rainey, D. L. (2013). Visionary strategic leadership : sustaining success through strategic direction, corporate management, and high-level programs. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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