The study found that found that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors. (This doesn't mean that tactical behaviors aren't important, but they don't differentiate the highly effective leaders from everyone else.)
achieve those objectives) were six times more likely to be seen as effective as the leaders that were low
on strategic, independent of any of their other behaviors. A second study asked 10,000 senior executives charged with setting the leadership development goals for their respective organizations to select the leadership behaviors most critical to their organizations’ future success. They chose strategic 93% of the time.
Both the extensive research results and the high priority senior leaders place on strategic leadership
practices reinforce the importance of building this skill and mindset in any leadership development
endeavor. Knowing that, what can you do as an individual to develop your own strategic approach?
It starts with an understanding of your own behavioral traits. There are some great behavioral assessments available. I use the McQuaig Self-Development survey with my clients. It's a strengths focused assessment that stack ranks an individual's behavioral traits and helps them to create an action plan that will allow them to continue to leverage strengths while developing in other areas.
It takes time, effort and commitment to develop your own strategic approach. It is a skill that you can improve with practice and one that will serve you well regardless of how senior your role is in the organization. Robert Kabacoff, Ph. D., has found that strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making through objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there. It also means thinking systemically. That is, identifying the impact of their decisions on various segments of the organization—including internal departments, personnel, suppliers and customers.
There are five areas that an individual should focus on to develop a strategic mindset:
- Objectives - have you written what you are trying to accomplish? What is your ultimate goal?
- Plans - what do you need to do to get from where you are now to where you want to be?
- Implications - how will your actions affect other people in your life?
- Anticipation - what challenges will come up? What obstacles might get in your way? What opportunities could present themselves to you as you move toward your ultimate goal?
- Analysis - it is critical that you take the time to regularly analyze the pros and cons of any potential course of action against your ultimate goals.
Organizations and companies can also help develop strategic thinkers and leaders. Kabacoff noted that it’s not an easy task. Strategic thinking is a difficult leadership skill to acquire because it is as much a mindset
as a set of techniques. What’s more, in the workplace tactical responses to immediate demands are
often rewarded over long term vision and planning. That said, it’s not impossible to instill strategic
thinking skills in managers. Here are some ways you can foster strategic thinking as part of your
- Set time aside for strategic planning - this should not be a once a year endeavor that is undertaken only by senior management
- Mentoring - connecting managers within the organization with leaders that are highly strategic is the best way to pass that legacy down through the organization. Bear in mind that different people learn differently. If you're going to implement a program make sure that it's geared to the person being mentored.
- Communication - it's important that the organization is on the same page with respect to vision, mision and goals. One area that is consistently highlighted in engagement surveys is a lack of communication. Keeping people informed ensures that information crosses all organizational boundaries.
- Ask why more often - encourage your direct reports to do the same. That single question should be followed up with the question when?
- Coaching - this is something that we've asked every manager to do but failed to teach them how to do it properly. Coaching isn't telling. It's about the act of self-discovery and self-sufficiency.