Getting Better at Strategic Leadership

“We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every organization. We may understand what strategic leaders are supposed to do, but the key question is: How can I do these things better?

Suppose that three things on your list of behaviors strategic leaders do are: anticipate the future, think critically, and make good decisions. How would you improve your ability to do those things well? You have to break those behaviors down to precise steps which you can take.

Anticipate the Future

To be better at anticipating the future, try this:

  • Study the periphery of your industry. Innovative ideas usually come from the outside, not the core.
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business. This is a key to innovative thinking. There are many things from other sectors that will not work, as is in your sector. However, sometimes with just a subtle change, a new idea emerges that will work well for you.
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better. Don’t get so involved in your own private world that you don’t network widely with other people. Having positive relationships with others brings fresh perspectives to us.

Think Critically

Critical thinkers don’t have to be negative—they are differentiated from the prevailing circumstances, and that allows them to question presuppositions. A mentor once told me, “There will always be a long list of people who are willing to do your thinking for you, if you let them.” Never do that. Think for yourself. Practice these behaviors:

  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things. Ask yourself, “What is the root cause?”
  • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own.
  • Ask yourself, “How would __________ approach this?” Fill in the blank with different people, including some with whom you don’t always agree.

Make Good Decisions

We’ve all heard of “analysis paralysis”. While it’s important to think carefully, at some point, you have to make a decision and take action. As a leader, you have to develop processes and enforce them so that your team can arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:

  • Make sure you are really looking at the heart of the matter.
  • Balance the need for speed and accuracy. It’s an art, not a science, and you’ll never be perfect. Strive for balance.
  • Learn the skill of being able to consider all of the stakeholders and diverse views, but take a stand even with incomplete and/or contradictory information.

Becoming a better strategic leader takes practice and discipline. Make it a habit to work through these questions regularly and you will find your ability to function as a strategic leader begins to grow.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

4 responses

  1. My experience has been that there is not a shortage of strategic leaders; there is a shortage 1) in the ability to recognize and hire them, and 2) in creating an atmosphere that unleashes them.

    1. Very true, David. Sometimes the problem is finding strategic leaders, other times, the problem is cultivating them.

  2. Great post. So often part of “good decision” making is anticipating the impact of the decisions on others (groups/individuals/organizations) and developing a strategy to deal with it as well. Often the reaction to a decision can distract from the implementation of the solution.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Enna. Love your feedback!

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