Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Essential Skills of Strategic Leadership

Strategic thinkers are important for the success of organizations as well as the nation. When influential power, strategic thinking, and resources are aligned the possibilities and potential solutions to complex problems are endless. Through the Wharton school and consulting practices the researchers Schoemaker, Krupp & Howland have identified six leadership skills that apply to any leader that wants to capitalize on uncertainty (2013).  Their conclusions state that strategic leadership, based upon 20,000 executives, is a result of the abilities to anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align and learn.

 Anticipation: It is the ability of leaders to see the market and the possible changes and challenges the organization will face in the future. They do this through staying ahead of market trends, learning about market adaptations, and connecting with those who are leading the field. The majority of leaders are poor at understanding ambiguous threats and challenges around the periphery of their businesses.

Challenge: Strategic leaders are not happy with the status quo. They challenge their assumptions and the assumptions of others. They use a multitude of various theoretical lenses and personal understandings to see opportunities and threats. They challenge the status quo and take concerted action when they become knowledgeable about the events and factors.

Interpret: Leaders who seek to gain knowledge try and interpret problems from multiple vantage points and angles. They seek out complex and often conflicting information in order to make a greater understanding of the problem. They are not locked into a particular vantage point or perspective that limits their ability to understand and solve problems. 

Decide: Once they have the necessary information strategic leaders will come to a conclusion and make a decision. They seek out as many possible options as they make their way to the most viable solution. They avoid simple proposals that limit their position where they can not adjust if new information changes the circumstances. They weigh and balance each of these options for greater clarity. 

Align: Strategic decision makers must pull people to a common ground when implementing their vision and strategy. Such leaders reach out to others, articulate their visions, and find common ground. This alignment offers an opportunity for the strategy to draw in as many supporters and resources as possible which improves their chance of success.

Learn: Strategic leaders never stop learning and encouraging others to learn. Not all solutions come in a simple ready-made can. They know that learning is a process of understanding and applying solutions to problems. They encourage others to learn, succeed and fail so they can take all of the information and make the solution better. They are open-minded and critical of information being presented. 

Strategic thinking entails the ability to take a solid and in-depth look at the environment, come to conclusions based upon multiple sides of an issue, and then enact a plan that maintains the greatest pathways to success. Such leaders are known to continually learn about themselves, their environment, and other people. They are visionaries in the sense that they help others see possibilities and encourage them to try, experiment, and succeed. Yet even when failure occurs it is seen through a process of improvement. 

Schoemaker, P., Krupp, S. & Howland, S. (2013). Strategic leadership: The essential skills. Harvard Business Review, 91 (1).

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