Are you a strategic leader?

strategic leadership

If not, maybe you would like to be? Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Jesper B. Sørensen says strategic leadership can be learnt. Listen to him outlining how to become strategic and how it enables you to turn an idea into a sustainable business:

An outstanding innovation is not enough. If you don’t have a strategy you easily get lost in the crowd and fail. If you are strategic you can however differentiate yourself from your competition.

Strategy is an ongoing process and a crucial part of what leadership is about. Every time you make a decision you are actually into strategy. Even when it comes to basics like how to allocate your resources. But for some reason a lot of people don’t realize that even simple decisions like that are strategy.

Demystifying strategy

A lot of people, wrongly, believe strategy is complicated. It’ hence important to demystify the concept so that we can all become self reflective about how we strategize instead of doing it blindly.

Thinking like a scientist is typical of strong leaders. They look at different concepts and develop a vision that the rest of the team can identify with. It’s crucial for a strategic leader to focus on the group as a whole while managers should be concerned with technical aspects that will enable the group to get the job done in the most efficient way possible. But to give staff a sense of belonging is up to the strategic leader.

Strategic organisations?

A leader needs to develop and execute a strategic plan and turn it into action. Fundamental questions are how to organize your people, how to structure incentives, reportive relationships and what kind of a culture would benefit the company. And, not to forget, HR i.e. what kind of people do you want to recruit into the team. Such issues are crucial because in order succeed you need to have an alignment between the organisation and the key elements in your strategy.

Richard Branson, strategic leadership, Stanford University, Professor Jesper Sörensen
RIchard Branson is a strategic leader. Would he be where he is today without a strategy?

Which is more important strategy or the idea?

An innovation means an opportunity. But a lot of innovators focus entirely on the nature of the opportunity and how their, say, product is really going to make a difference. But if you don’t come up with a strategic plan for how you will profit from that innovation you will run into trouble.

Recognizing the obstacles that may block you is important. It could be powerful buyers, suppliers, rivals or simply how you can get an entrance into the industry. Here strategy comes in. If you don’t have a strategy to capture the value you have generated it may never happen.

Have you found your own leadership style?

An abundance of people associate leadership with particular individuals such as Ghandi or Steve Jobs. Sure, it’s important to learn from them but we also have to remember that we are who we are. You bring your personality to the table with your strengths and weaknesses. Effective leaders recognize that and build their leadership style around their pros and cons. You also have to have an alignment between your leadership style and the organisation you are building and your strategy. One way of improving your leadership is, according to Sörensen to turn to others and ask them to honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. He is also of the opinion that all human beings can be strategic leaders in the right situation and the right time. While there’s more to leadership than strategy he’s definitely right that anyone can learn how to become strategic as well as strategies for leading.

Are you a strategic leader? If not, would you like to be? Were you of the impression strategy was more complex than it is? Do you agree with Sörensen that anyone can learn to be a strategic leader? Have you learnt how to strategize? Do you believe an innovation can succeed without a strategy to capitalize on it? Sure there’s always an exception but in general you need a strategy for your business to succeed. 

Video: Stanford Graduate School of Business – Pictures: Ken Teegardin & Jarle Naustvik

38 thoughts on “Are you a strategic leader?

  1. Well, I'm not sure whether I am a strategic leader. However, I believe I am strategic enough when it comes to approaching tasks and goals. It's up to us whether we want to complicate or ease the process and work things out!

  2. Yes, I do believe I am and that strategic thinking can be taught. However, I am more in agreement that strategy happens all the time. It is much better to be self-reflective about strategy in order to reach an intended goal.

    1. Yes we both are and, unlike leadership, strategic thinking can be taught. Today I made a fellow student I’m writing an essay with understand that unless we are strategic we will fail. She listened and got excellent results today.

  3. To me, the important part of this article is the fact that strategic thinking need not be complex but is simply decision making and planning.

  4. I was of the opinion that strategic thinking was more complex than it actually is. The role I now have at my place of work allows me to sit in on strategic meetings. I am able to follow the discussion and understand that some are skilled with vision/looking at the big picture and others are better equipped and ensuring these changes take place. I am working on looking at the big picture rather than focusing on the minute detail.

  5. Hi Catarina: I would say that both strategy and the idea are of equal value. And it is in some amazing leaders like Richard Branson that we find an equal measure of both.

  6. I think finding your leadership style is important. You can be knowledgeable in many facts of the business, but if you cannot lead people, your talents are wasted. Being able to find you style so you can lead the people behind you is vital, if you cannot do this, you should NOT be a leader.

  7. I disagree that everyone has the ability to learn how to be a strategic leader. There are people who are much happier and much more skilled at execution — they are the managers and doers who carry out leadership's strategies. l happen to be a leader — if you know the Myers-Briggs personality types, I'm an ENTJ. That doesn't make be better than someone with a different personality type. As an ENTJ I'm not a detail person — there are tons of people better at detail than I am. So I think it's a little simplistic to say that strategic leadership can be learned. Just look at all the CEOs who have failed at the biggest companies.
    My recent post Timing Isn’t Anything, It’s Everything

    1. Don't you think anyone can learn strategy, Jeannette? And strategies to be a bit better to lead. Leadership however they can not learn. You either have the qualities it takes to lead or you don't. It's very difficult to change your personality. Must be the same personality type as you because I'm also a generalist and hate details:-)

  8. I just read an article in, Forbes related to this topic. The article sited a research study findings that women over the age of 55 were best suited for strategic leadership. The study found that attributes such as, resilience, human perspective, the ability to move between vision and detail and the ability to figure out what to do when things don’t work out were all found in women over 55. Yet this population were overlooked or forced into early retirement. Hopefully, more attention and media coverage will open myopic eyes.

  9. I think the word Strategy often causes a measure of panic as many believe that strategy is about having some sort of long-term prescience. In fact, strategy covers everything from immediate, relatively small, decisions, to long-term, broad ones. The latter are clearly a lot more difficult to get right because of all the variables involved and this is what puts people off.

    As the saying goes, "The journey of a thousand miles beings with one step."

    Don't let your lack of confidence to accurately predict the future stop you taking that first step – build your strategy with the facts you have at hand and be prepared to change / develop it as you go along.

    And, yes, innovation – like anything – needs a strategy to succeed…

  10. I don’t think everyone can be a strategic leader but most may be able to learn how. Allocation of resources is important and of course we should be aware of what is happening. Of course a strong leader has to take into account the various possibilites – both his/her strengths and weaknesses and those of the other people involved. This can also lead to hiring people who are well qualified to support the strategies. Nice article.

  11. No, not a strategic leader as yet. I would like to be someday though.

    I find the world of business quite complex and for years believed I just did not have the mindset or expertise for it. At times I feel out of my depth especially when reading blogs such as this. I question my limited knowledge and understanding.

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. I believe strategic leadership can be learned. I never thought about strategy occurring every time you make a decision, but that is so true. I liked the reference in the video to a leader building a community, A good way to sum up what a leader is/does.

  13. Very good video. I too believe that strategic leadership can be taught. A leader needs to know more about the ins and outs of the process and be able to see the bigger picture to be able to ask the right questions and be able to guide others to their vision. To do this, they must be willing to work past their judgements and think outside the box. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Strategy can definitely be learnt, Sabrina. And strategies for leadership that makes a difference. But leadership is a different matter. The majority of people in this world consider themselves leaders even though they are managers. American high school students were for instance asked if they had leadership qualities and the vast majority said yes. Apparently some business dictionary in the US at some stage equalled manager to leader, even though that's not correct. But that's probably one reason of the inflation in "leaders".

  14. One of the best videos I feel you've shared with us Catarina. So many takeaways. But one for me to continue to percolate: Innovators think about the product too much. Harder is the plan with how to profit from the idea. This difficulty in innovation reminds me of the Blue Ocean Strategy philosophy. Get out of the "red ocean" of your competitors and figure out what you can do better, easier, faster, more profitably or in some way different. Thanks!
    My recent post Shhh …. How the Quiet Revolution is Growing

    1. Thank you, Patricia. Agree with you that we sometimes get stuck thinking of the innovation and forget about the strategy needed to make it a success. A lot of innovators fall into that trap and hence fail to make the world benefit from what they have come up with.

  15. I like the “outstanding innovation without strategy is not enough”. I think that pretty well sums it up and yet that is so often the way business operates. The statement that we regard strategy as something complex and then explaining that any decision is strategy is something that should be part and parcel of any business plan. That just makes so much sense to me.

  16. Very enlightening. Yes, I do believe that strategic thinking can be taught but I was more in agreement that strategy happens all the time, but it is much better to be self-reflective about strategy in order to reach a goal.

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