At its basic level, a strategy is a plan for achieving the organisation’s vision and mission in accordance with its values. Strategic planning is about how you structure your business, people and all your other resources to create a competitive advantage and enable you to achieve your vision and mission. Strategic leadership is about ensuring that the vision and mission remain relevant and clearly focused on both current and future situations and communicating the strategic plan in a way that engages and motivates staff.
Strategic leadership does not come easily in most organisations. Statistics show that fewer than 10% of leaders exhibit strategic skills, which is rather worrying considering the demands on organisations today. Strategic skills are not only needed in times of growth. During tough times, when resources are tight, it is even more important to ensure those resources are focused in the right areas.
Leaders throughout organisations face tremendous pressures to make short-term numbers and show immediate wins. Operational leadership rules the day. This can lead to a lack of focus. Additionally, leaders who excel at meeting short-term targets and solving functional problems may feel paralysed and unsure when the challenges in front of them are far reaching and complex.
How do we lead in ways that position a business for the future while meeting current demands? It does require a different set of skills from operational leadership. Strategic leadership requires us to think, act and influence others in ways that promote the enduring success of the organisation.
First, strategic thinking is grounded in a strong understanding of the complex relationship between the organisation and its environment. It requires taking a broad view, involving the right people, with important information and perspectives, asking probing questions and facilitating conversations. Strategic thinkers then identify connections, patterns and key issues.
Next, strategic acting involves taking decisive action that is consistent with the strategic direction of the organisation, despite all ambiguity, complexity and chaos. A strategic plan is only a plan. An organisation’s actual strategies lie in the decisions and choices people make.
Strategic leaders act in ways that manage the tension between success in daily tasks and success in the long term. They facilitate others’ strategic actions too, by providing a balance of direction and autonomy, of learning from actions and rewarding appropriate risk-taking.
Ultimately, strategic leadership is both an organisational and a personal process, and it is one that today’s businesses cannot afford to ignore. The job of strategy is not limited to a few top executives. Strategic leaders are needed throughout our organisations if they are to adapt, innovate and succeed well into the future.