Being a Strategic Leader is More Important Than You Think

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“Being a Strategic Leader is More Important Than You Think”

By: Megan Kirsch

Effective leadership is complex and multifaceted, but in study after study, a strategic approach has been proven to be critical in order to see real results. One recent study evaluated the leadership qualities of 40,000 managers and executives in 144 countries and 27 industries. Each participant was assessed with the Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA), a 360-degree assessment tool measuring 22 leadership practices and 26 measures of effectiveness. The results uncovered that a strategic approach to leadership was far more important to the perception of effectiveness than any of the other behaviors studied. In fact, leaders that were high on “strategic” (those who focused long range and who had a process to achieve those objectives) were five times more likely to be seen as effective than leaders that scored on the lower end of the strategic spectrum.

So what makes a leader strategic, and is there any way to teach strategic thinking? First and foremost, strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making. Looking through an objective lens when it comes to thinking ahead and planning, facilitates “bigger picture” thinking.  This means having the capability to think in multiple time frames, identifying immediate goals and priorities, and working towards the “bigger picture” goals and accomplishing tasks that get you closer towards reaching the overarching objective. It also means thinking systemically. That is, identifying the impact that a decision might have on various segments of the organization.

You can develop your own strategic approach with practice and effort. Making strategic planning sessions a regular part of your week—even if you’re not actually in charge of planning anything in that moment, is a great place start. During these planning sessions, stay focused on a few important questions:

  • What you are trying to accomplish? What is your ultimate goal?
  • What do you need to do to get from where you are to where you want to be (interim goals, time frames, resources needed, accountability items identified)?
  • How will your actions affect other people and areas of the entire organization?
  • Anticipation of the future. What challenges or opportunities may arise? What will the client want? What will your competitors be doing?
  • Review all parts of your operation against strategic positioning. Do you have the people/resources/training to accomplish next year’s goals? If not, how can you get them?
  • Analyze the pros and cons of any potential course of action against the overarching, “bigger picture” goals of the organization.

The key is to continuously articulate and refine the vision for your team, project, or initiative and communicate this vision to others. As with any, this effort takes practice and continuity. Developing a strategic approach is not easy, but the result often makes the difference between an average and an exceptional leader.

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