Atlanta Director: Dr. Greg Steely
Four Qualities of a Strategic Leader
Strategy is a term that has been around for centuries. Strategy is one of those words, as soon as we hear it, we know exactly what it means. Life is full of strategic moments; how we plan our day, what we will eat, what we will do in the game, or how we must navigate relationships; all of these have strategic moments. We can’t get the optimum results without having a well thought out and actionable strategy. The other day I was trying to remember the last time I went somewhere new without my GPS. Did we really use paper maps back in the day? Don’t they seem so primitive in today’s world? But a paper map was critical for us to get around to new places, especially when traveling to faraway places. My GPS has become my strategic tool to get me from where I am starting to where I need to end up. It is there for me on the journey and even gives me a very encouraging statement at the end; “You have arrived at your destination.” I need to hear that every day!
Strategic leaders are similar to GPS systems in their organizations or teams. A strategic leader is someone who takes all the actions necessary to convert strategy into success for creating competitive advantage. I read somewhere; “Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.” Here are four qualities I believe make up an effective strategic leader:
- Set Clear Priorities. Priorities help coordinate the action needed as well as provide a framework for decisive action. Three or four clear priorities help provide steps to an organization who understands their end goal. These are also called strategic drivers; a few important factors an organization sees as important to maintaining an advantage, getting a win or overcoming an obstacle. “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” – Stephen Covey
- Create Conditions for Others’ Effectiveness. This helps set priorities on how the human and organizational capabilities work together to carry out the strategy. There must be a balance between autonomy and direction. President Jimmy Carter once said, “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Strategic leaders model agility. Great organizations are the ones that use agility to reach their effectiveness. Agility is all about balance and adapting through risks and move quickly on your feet. Strategic leaders create a culture where risk taking is awarded because they know risk taking helps others grow. Through risk, they find their most effective contribution to the team.
- Act Decisively in the Face of Uncertainty. Uncertain environments are scary. They can be paralyzing to even the best leaders. Great strategic leaders understand that every strategic decision has a level of uncertainty and action cannot wait for perfection. A fundamental tenet in strategic leadership is an effective organization should attempt to align its characteristics with the challenges posed by its internal and external environments. Strategies are viewed as tools the organizations members use in an attempt to attain alignment to vision, sustainable impact and transformational influence. Decisive decision-making helps lead to faster alignment. “When you really start figuring things out as a quarterback, you realize you don't have to be perfect every time, but you do have to be quick and decisive.” – Aaron Rogers. Don’t wait to get hit!
- Act with Short Term and Long Term in Mind. Acting with both the short and long term in mind is an important part of learning how to fulfill the vision. Strategic leaders lead their organizations and teams toward the discipline of thinking about the present and future implications and impact, and make the strategy clear to the people involved. Short-term goals are always easier than long-term goals, but it’s the long-term perspective that creates sustainability. “I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” – Michael Phelps.
Be the GPS your team needs. Push them toward a destination that requires a collaborative strategy, the impact will be greater together. And the journey will be a lot of fun. “You have arrived at your destination.”