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.
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.”
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?