How effective are you at managing change? In the modern business landscape, the process of successfully navigating change - whether it's organizational or related to products and services - is one of the most highly-valued skills for the entrepreneur.
And to manage change successfully, an executive must possess the skills and tools for strategy formulation as well as implementation. The combination of these two elements has come to be known as strategic leadership, providing the vision and direction for the growth and success of an organization.
A Snapshot of the Strategic Leader
In general, strategic leaders can be found at the head of large organizations, influencing thousands to hundreds of thousands of employees and external support personnel. Within this role, they are tasked with establishing organizational structure, allocating funding and other resources and effectively defining and communicating the strategic vision for the company as a whole to employees and investors alike.
Common traits often include:
Ability to operate in an uncertain environment where complex problems and external events may impact the success of the venture
Make decisions by processing information quickly and assessing alternatives (often based on incomplete data), the consequences of which impact a wider range of people and resources than a standard organizational leader
Often will not see the fruit of their labor come to light during their tenure, planning instead for initiatives that will take place years later and possibly even after the leader has left the job
Two Different Approaches
As with just about anything in a large organization, the process of strategic leadership begins with people. Managing change through uncertainty requires strategic leaders who possess and communicate a clear path of direction, fostering ownership and alignment within their workgroups to achieve the desired outcomes.
In addition, these leaders are keenly aware of the delicate balance between the analytical and human components present within their organization, which is why many who've successfully employed this system have been shown to rely on strong second-tier leaders, enabling them to exert their influence primarily through subordinates while focusing on the larger issues that impact the organization as a whole.
However, depending on the strengths and individual personality of each executive, many corporate leaders opt to focus on the human component more than the analytical, as seen in the modern employee-centered organization, or vice versa on analytical, as seen in organizations based on a more traditional model that center primarily on a bottom line.
How to Select the Style That's Right for You
Strategic leadership is an ongoing process. And when trying to decide how to conceptualize your role as a strategic leader, you must first decide how you see yourself participating as the process moves forward. Is it your goal to provide bold, analytical leadership and establish yourself as "hero" among employees and stockholders? Or do you envision yourself serving as a benevolent and humane coach, enabling those under you to realize their own full potential and stand in the limelight?
An analytical leader desires to personally come up with the right answer. Leading from the front, these individuals tackle strategic issues by drawing primarily upon their own experience and insight, attempting to single-handedly outsmart the competition and establish dominance within the marketplace.
In contrast, the leader focused on the human branch of strategic leadership believes their organization's strategy is only as strong as the breadth and depth of the understanding and commitment it attracts. As such, the development of strategy is carefully coordinated but widely disseminated throughout the organization. In doing so, this type of leader is able to guide and respond to directional elements while fostering commitment and encouraging empowerment among employees at all levels.