Strategic Leadership : Seven Critical Skills All Leaders Need
What’s strategic leadership? Strategic leadership is the ability to communicate a strategic vision and motivate your team to achieve that vision. That being said, what critical skills does strategic leadership require? As a leader, what do you need to be skilled at to become a strategic leader?
Strategic leaders are always thinking ahead. Strategic leadership style is one of many different approaches to leadership.
It’s one of the best known and popular approaches that CEOs and visionaries use to get long-term results in companies and start-ups. Strategic leaders are flexible and willing to change their plans if the situation or economic forecast change. They also are more like guides than managers, empowering employees to make their decision themselves.
Strategic skills sounds like they’re really hard to learn. Actually, you can develop strategic skills whatever your position, and they will help you be a better leader.
It doesn’t matter what type of leader you are. You don’t even need to be in a leadership role. Everybody can be more strategic and use their time to focus on what really leads to improvement.
Strategic leadership leads to higher workplace satisfaction and employees who are more engaged.
We all aim to increase our productivity, and being the right kind of leader is a major step in that direction. Strategic leaders know how to guide employees to make decisions that are good for the business, and to make those decisions on their own.
Strategic leadership skills are not rocket science. Being more strategic is achievable for any leader that wants it.
Strategic leadership is learned — it does not come naturally. Therefore, educating yourself about the characteristics you want to embody will help you become a better leader. Seven critical skills are absolutely necessary for consistent success as a strategic leader. Read on!
Skill #1: Challenge the Status Quo
Strategic leaders are constantly challenging the status quo. Is there a more-efficient way to complete a particular task? What could be changed to increase team unity and trust? They are open-minded and welcome conflicting viewpoints, even if the viewpoint being questioned is their own.
Smart leaders regularly seek out challenges for themselves and find way to push their staff out of comfort zones.
Particularly sensitive to complacency, which can breed failure when performance matters most, strategic leaders look for ways to test and improve their staff’s skillsets repeatedly. That way, when crunch time actually arrives, they have a good comfort level on people’s capability handling important projects.
Developing and presenting ideas is a key skill for strategic leaders. Even more important is the ability to connect their ideas to the way the enterprise creates value.
By setting up ways for people to bring their innovative thinking to the surface, you can help them learn to make the most of their own creativity. This approach clearly differs from that of traditional cultures, in which the common channel for new ideas is limited to an individual’s direct manager. Instead, create a variety of channels for innovative thinking.
If you want to develop your capacity to challenge preconceived notions, try focusing on the causes of an issue instead of the symptoms or effects.
Make a list of your company’s established assumptions and think about them critically. Holding focus groups where no one has skin in the game can help you uncover any issues, because in these situations, people can be truly objective. Hold regular safe-zone meetings in your workplace. In these meetings, encourage debate and differences of opinion, and be sure people know in advance that that’s the expectation.
Leaders have to be ready for challenges before they occur. Look for opportunities or threats on the fringes of your business. In short, learn to be proactive instead of reactive.
To do this, talking and listening to your customers is a must. Learn about your competitors by conducting market research, or find a particularly successful opponent and study your differences. Take a look at any clients you’ve lost recently and try to determine the reasons why.
Skill #2: Make it Safe to Fail
Big failures are simply unacceptable within most organizations. You must enshrine acceptance of failure — and willingness to admit failure early — in the practices and processes of the company, including the appraisal and promotion processes.
The strategic leader needs perseverance. A “try one time and give up” attitude is no good when you have to drive people toward medium- and long-term goals.
Employees may become demoralized if new ventures, activities or plans get derailed. Part of your job as a leader is to keep everyone focused on the big picture. This role often involves meeting with the entire work force, individual departments or even individual employees to reaffirm or redirect their efforts.
A company’s espoused statement of values may encourage employees to fail fast and learn from their errors.
That works well until there is an actual failure, leading to a genuine loss. The most dreaded phone call in the corporate world soon follows; it’s the one that begins: “Who authorized this decision?” Sadly, big failures are simply unacceptable within most organizations.
Learning is a continuous process and organizations should encourage employees to fail fast and learn faster.
This is because an actual failure can lead to a sometimes significantly unfavorable loss for a company running into a loss. It is therefore essential that potential strategic leaders have a back-up plan and strategies in place for damage control. The willingness to face failures and rise above them is an essential characteristic for strategic leaders and employees alike.
Being a strategic leader means intentionally creating a learning-from-failure culture that builds skill and demonstrates trust in your people to solve problems.
That translates into more time for you to think strategically on how to navigate the complexities of moving the business forward. More time to think sounds like a desirable situation to be in as a leader. The workplace needs to become a safe place to fail to facilitate productivity, innovation, and creative responses to the demands that ensue from disruption at work.
Skill #3: Clear The Air
Without a doubt, being an effective communicator is a top attribute of a strategic leader. You may have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can’t convey it to your team or colleagues, it will be almost impossible to carry out.
Express your vision clearly and then make yourself accessible to discuss anything going on in the office.
By developing the ability to clearly describe what you want done and relate it to your team, you will unite everyone’s efforts. More specifically, your team needs to be aligned and on-board with your strategic objectives and goals to be successful.
Strategic leaders spend a lot of time receiving information, filtering it down to the essential matters, and sending it out to staff effectively to produce results.
The communication skills of a leader are as both a collector and distributor of information, which requires a significant ability to interpret messaging correctly and anticipate what it means for the future. Those assumptions then drive decision-making for strategic moves.
In addition, a strategic leader must have strong abilities to communicate persuasively.
Within a management team, the strategic leader may have to fight to convince others that a particular path is optimal in achieving goals. He must also participate in helping employees at all levels understand their roles in carrying out a strategy. In many cases, employees don’t like change. Thus, the strategic leader must help them understand why the change is necessary for future success of the business.
Strategic leaders know that the real power in information comes not from hoarding it, but from using it to find and create new opportunities for growth.
Transparency fosters conversation about the meaning of information and the improvement of everyday practices. When information is released to specific individuals only on a need-to-know basis, people have to guess what factors are significant to the strategy of the enterprise. Moreover, when people lack information, it undermines their confidence in challenging a leader or proposing an idea that differs from that of their leader.
Skill #4: Together We're Stronger
A collaborative approach will go a long way to enhance your company’s transparency. If your intentions are genuine, your team won’t hesitate to collaborate with you. Collaboration often contributes to trust, and your employees are more likely to support your idea.
Distribution of responsibility increases the collective intelligence, adaptability, and resilience of the organization over time.
If you don’t want to involve people in your strategic plan, the chances are that your project will fail. Because honestly, no one wants to be part of success; their contributions never count. Top leaders should push power downward, across the organization, empowering people at all levels to make decisions.
Effective leaders are proficient at delegation.
They are well aware of the fact that delegation will avoid overloading of responsibilities on the leaders. They also recognize the fact that authorizing the subordinates to make decisions will motivate them a lot.
Having a collaborative approach to leadership is powerful because it naturally creates transparency in your organization.
If you’re connected to your team and genuinely interested in collaborating with them, they will know what you’re thinking and vice versa. Collaboration leads to trust, and your team will be more likely to support your vision. If you’re not getting buy-in on that strategic plan you’ve created, it’s not going to be effective. People want to own what they help create.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of delegating out responsibility is the amount of time it saves. Giving tasks to others simply saves you a lot of time at the end of the day.
Delegating will save you time and create revenue, provided you focus on growing your business. However, delegating is a lot more than assigning tasks — it will take a bit of time to succeed at it and ultimately build a support staff that truly has your back.
Skill #5: Experience Beats Knowledge
Leaders with good strategic skills understand what’s going on around them. Keep an eye out for industry trends or technologies that may help you and your team perform better. The world outside is changing and if you don’t keep an eye on it, it might leave you behind.
The vast majority of professional leadership development is informative as opposed to experiential.
Classroom-based training is, after all, typically easier and less expensive to implement; it’s evidence of short-term thinking, rather than long-term investment in the leadership pipeline. Although traditional leadership training can develop good managerial skills, strategists need experience to live up to their potential.
One vehicle for creating leadership experiences is the cross-functional practice field.
Bring together a team of potential strategic leaders with a collective assignment: to create a fully developed solution to a problem or to design a new critical capability and the way to generate it. Give them a small budget and a preliminary deadline. Have them draw plans and financial estimates of their solutions.
When you’ve been working at a company for years, or simply been in the same career for a while, it’s easy to get stuck.
Being a strong leader requires practicality and realism, but just as importantly it requires having an eye for innovation and the vision to execute on it. Nimbly adjusting and adapting to current business or economic environments is a valuable skill to foster.
The best way to adapt and expand your skill base is by implementing them practically, instead of acquiring only theoretical knowledge.
Strategic leaders understand that to tackle the most demanding situations and problems, they need to draw on everything they have learned in their lives. They want to tap into their full set of capabilities, interests, experiences, and passions to come up with innovative solutions.
Skill #6: Passion Is Contagious
Enthusiasm for your mission or project will get others excited because they can see and feel your dedication. But you must also add commitment to the mix of strategic leadership qualities, because passion doesn’t always get the job done.
Commitment is the ability to stay focused on what will make you successful.
One simple way to convey your passion and commitment is to lead by example. You expect your team to work hard and produce quality results, so roll up your sleeves and join them. Team motivation significantly increases when people see their boss working alongside them, putting in the same level of effort (or more) than everyone else.
Strategic leaders must have a zeal for work that goes beyond money and power and also they should have an inclination to achieve goals with energy and determination.
An organization led by enthusiasm will often entice the employees to increase their dedication. An energetic leader combines optimism with bloody-mindedness. Adversity depletes energy. However, a good leader’s head goes up just as everyone else’s goes down.
Encouraging workers to achieve their personal best also contributes significantly to the company’s growth.
Keep in mind that some leaders conduct strategy review meetings and only focus on the problems — i.e. the red and yellow items in their scorecard. You definitely want to be aware of issues, but you must also take the time to recognize things that are going well with your strategy and celebrate successes.
While most leaders are only concerned about their achievements, you need to make sure that you are looking at all angles of the organization as a manager.
Check to see what your organization team has also achieved under you and see how you can improve what they have done. Don’t be the leader who only wants to put a lot of emphasis on the negative things while ignoring the positives.
Skill #7: Never Stop Learning
Specifically, strategic leaders don’t rest on their past achievements and training. They are able to see new challenges coming down the road that require new knowledge and education. Technology implications are one of the most common areas that frequently require retraining.
Strategic leaders just don’t have skills in their narrow specialty but they have a little knowledge about a lot of things.
Strategists have the humility and intelligence to realize that their learning and development is never done.
Leaders don’t accept the status quo or rest on their laurels.
They’re always asking “what’s next?” to grow themselves, their organizations, and their people. Learning and sharing what you learn to develop other leaders is how you make an impact and leave a legacy.
All great leaders have one thing in common — hunger for learning.
Exceptional leaders are always busy reading great books, using the best tools, enrolled in relevant online courses and improving themselves. A remarkable leader is someone who is continually seeking knowledge, growth and is committed to constant learning. It makes them knowledgeable, trustworthy, and reliable.
There you have it. Strategic skills are not rocket science, but they are important. Being more strategic is something every leader can achieve, it’s not reserved for the few at the very top of the ladder.
Strategic leadership is about doing the right thing and forcing other into doing the right thing at a situation to forward your long term goals.
Strategic leaders can create vision, express vision, passionately possess vision and persistently drive it to accomplishment. Strategic leadership skills contribute to your professional as well as personal growth. It plays a key role in the evolution of a company and is therefore a sought-after trait for employers and businesses alike.
Strategic leaders don’t settle for minimum achievement today.
They are regularly looking forward, anticipating needs, and preparing for new goals tomorrow. That outlook always places these leaders one step ahead of others, and it supports why they are seen as leaders and the go-to people for an organization.
You need to understand that strategic leadership is quite different from one person to another.
How you prove your leadership skills will depend on the organizational cultures and your skills as a leader. In other words, you need to get your leadership style straight and fit within your organizational working environment.
Being a true strategic leader means constantly applying the skills discussed above, identifying weaknesses as they arise, and working to correct them.
When you continually put these skills into practice, you will create a more unified, trusting, confident team — which will ultimately lead to greater productivity and increased success for the business.
By following the seven critical skills we’ve outlined here, you will give yourself the ability and influence to pave the way for others who follow. What do you think makes a strategic leader or manager? Let me know in the comments below!