In today’s immediate gratification environment, leaders are often pushed to make short-term gains and show quarterly results that are not in line with the long-term vision of the company. As a result, companies continue to look for the “holy grail” of leadership training that will assist them in turning “operationally” minded supervisors into “strategic” leaders.

This lack of focus on the long-term vision of the company can ultimately be detrimental to the growth of the company. Training managers in strategic leadership tactics are essential to ensure a strong, efficient company. This often leads companies to ask the question, “What is Strategic Leadership?”

What Is Strategic Leadership?

This can be a complex and abstract subject, but strategic leadership can be defined as the ability to embrace and communicate the vision of the company. The concept also entails taking decisive action during times of complexity and chaos while strengthening commitment to the organization’s vision among all employees through relationship building. I know. I know. That definition was a mouthful! Later in this article, I will break this statement down into 6 easy to follow steps. Any manager can use these directions to become an effective strategic leader and strengthen their company.

Strategic leadership enables a manager to balance the often-unseen tension between short-term wins and long-term successes. It often involves the delicate balance of directing work without micro-managing employees. The goal is to lead them towards the strategic vision of the company without hitting them over the head with it! This often hinges on the completion and successful implementation of a strategic leadership plan.

How to Create a Strategic Leadership Plan

When examining the question “What is strategic leadership?”, the first item of business should be a Strategic Leadership Plan. Do not confuse a Strategic Leadership Plan with a company’s strategic plan. A Strategic Leadership Plan is a guide showing where the company would like to be in the next predetermined number of years. A Strategic Leadership Plan lays the framework for a change in the culture of leadership within the company and the training required to become strategic leaders. The plan explicitly details how many leaders an organization needs, what skills they need, and what behaviors (individually and collectively) they should employ to further the vision and mission of the company.

The first step in creating this type of plan is to identify the key drivers of business and choices leaders of the company can make that will position the company for future success. Based on these “drivers”, the plan should identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) leadership should possess to implement the vision.

This step requires access to the abilities of the current leadership and identifying gaps. Data collection, assessments, and other tools will be necessary. After completing this phase, the last step requires the creation of individual development plans, core learning experiences, and elective learning experiences for leadership.

Why a Strategic Leadership Plan Is Helpful

word leadership written from scrabble letters on a table with smartphone and agenda

A well-designed leadership plan will return benefits to the company for many years to come. The results will begin to manifest itself at all levels of the company. A good leadership plan will change the culture of the company. As a result, it will change the talent management and recruiting efforts of the company. It leads to new employees being chosen as their attributes reinforce and support the leadership strategy.

The strategic leadership plan is also helpful in driving the career planning of key employees to ensure they have a clear path within the company. This leads to the retention of key employees and the sustainability of company performance by developing strategic leaders.

6 Steps to Becoming a Strategic Leader

When contemplating the question what is strategic leadership, I found that six things were essential in developing a strategic leader.

1. Decide Deliberately

In this age of big data and data analytic options, strategic leaders should ensure that their decisions are supported by valid data gathered from reliable internal and external sources. This data should help leaders to focus on both the short term and long term consequences of business decisions.

This use of data can help leaders avoid two dangerous errors: status quo bias (keeping things the way they have always been) and availability bias (focusing on the recent yet transient trends to dictate long-term future trends). Using accurate data and data visualization techniques to convey the information will help strategic leaders make unbiased, informed decisions.

2. Communicate Your Strategic Agenda with Clarity to Employees

More than anything, employees want clarity from their leadership. We have all experienced the situation where something goes wrong in the organization, and everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else. Lack of clear communication is usually the culprit for dragging the project on how to expand your business. To be a strategic leader, it is important that you say exactly what you mean. Don’t beat around the bush. Be direct but not unpleasant. Be passionate but be genuine as well.

3. Ensure Resources Are Properly Aligned

Strategic leadership looks to the future. In most organizations, current resources are linked to past performance. As a result, they are often misaligned with what the company may need for future growth. New strategies often involve shifting revenue and resources from one area of the business to another to maximize results. This also helps to establish clear roles and responsibilities for employees who may be reassigned or go through changes in job duties.

4. Encourage Creativity and Denounce Micro-Management

smiling business consultant answering a question during a meeting at office

Everyone knows that it is difficult to be creative and productive when your boss is hovering over your shoulder each day watching your every move. Therefore, the biggest productivity killer in most organizations is a culture of micro-management. Workers have to wait and wait and wait for managers to sign off or approve something before the next step in the process can take place.

Such a remissness can cause stagnation and takes accountability away from employees. This, in turn, will kill any creative urges the employee may have. On the other hand, encouraging and rewarding creativity has been shown to lead to higher employee engagement. This leads to happier employees and a stronger company.

5. Leverage Outside Relationships

All strategic leaders need to build relationships with people who can help achieve the company’s vision effectively. Leaders often focus on internal relationships. However, external relationships can be just as important.

External contacts can offer unique insights from an outside perspective to leaders of an organization. They can help eliminate tunnel vision. Instead, they warn the manager not to look at a problem with only one set of lenses. External connections can even lead to new business opportunities and partnerships.

Leverage is key when building outside relationships. You want to be able to use information obtained from one area of your network to improve performance in another area. Leveraging these outside relationships is often the hardest part of the equation when answering the question “What is strategic leadership?”

6. Strategic Leadership Plan Evaluation

business team using tablet during meeting for project evaluation

When answering the questions “What is strategic leadership?” and “How can I become a better strategist?”, a person has to ensure that reflection is part of the answer. One of the most important decisions you will make as a strategic leader is determining how you will measure the success of a project or plan. An evaluation plan should be an essential part of the strategic plan. A systematic evaluation method will help you answer questions such as:

  • What worked?
  • What could have been done better?
  • How much did our processes improve?

Even though it is counter-intuitive, thinking about what you want to evaluate prior to starting a strategic plan can actually help you write and create the plan. It can help you determine what information you need now to evaluate the success later. Another benefit of evaluation is the contribution you may have to your industry. Sharing the results of your strategic improvement could make you an industry leader.

Final Thoughts

Making the successful transformation from an operationally-minded leader to a strategic leader requires a shift in thought and attitude. Skills that you may have benefited from as an operational leader can hinder you as you strive to become a strategic leader.

Creating a viable leadership plan that uses evaluation as a foundation to build attainable and measurable goals is the first step. Strategic leadership is a continuous process. Nonetheless, with the help of the 6 steps in this article, you can capitalize on all of the exciting opportunities that are available to you and your company through strategic leadership.

Please share your thoughts on this article and strategic leadership through comments or via social media.

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