Strategic Leadership 101


If I told you that you could create an organization full of super-individuals or strategic leaders that collaborate together and are committed to create a sustainable competitive advantage, would you be interested in how to do this? Ralph Stacy describes such people in his article Learning as an Activity of Interdependent People, as individuals that are in a state of duality when they communicate with each other. He says that it creates an entity or system outside of themselves or a kind of super-individual. The super-individual are interconnected, has a cumulative mind and intentions influenced by a variety of values, norms and traditions. [1] How would a leader go about creating this type of organization? I’m glad you asked!

Do you remember having a conversation with one of your parents as a child, and they told you that company was coming over your house for dinner? Do you remember the questions you asked? What? Who? When? Where? How? These are the same questions that need to be answered to teach you strategic leadership.

What?

What is strategic leadership? Strategic Leadership is the ability to “think, act, and influence in ways that promote the sustainable competitive advantage of the organization.” [2] To have a sustainable competitive advantage, which is when a company is successful in designing and implementing a strategy that their competitors aren’t using or can’t replace, organizations must have effective strategic leadership which promotes and practices strategic thinking. Northouse describes the type of approach that can create a competitive mindset and develop strategic leadership in others as the transformational leadership approach. This approach is the way leaders initiate, develop and bring about changes in organizations as well as empower their followers to assist with change. [3] Northouse further states that a transformational leader creates or assists with creating a vision for an organization which is a conceptual map of where the organization is going. He or she includes followers in the process, resulting in commitment to create a competitive advantage.

Who?

Who should be a strategic leader? Everyone in your organization and each is responsible for fostering strategic leadership in others. Most people in organizations, from the penthouse to the parking lot, tend to believe that only executives should attend those strategic off-site meetings where they go off in groups to develop and discuss strategies that affect the future of the organization. Hughes and Beatty believe that strategic leadership works best when information from top leadership of the organization combines with those in lower and middle ranks. [4] Therefore, everyone in the organization should be nurtured and developed into a strategic leader that practices strategic thinking competencies, which are visioning which Sanders states is the ability to see the future, environmental scanning which is the ability to scan your environment for ideas, reframing which is creative thinking, making common sense which is ensuring your followers understand the organizational environment and challenges, and system thinking which is seeing the big picture. [5]

When developing strategic leadership in others, be careful to avoid groupthink. Groupthink is when people in the group have so many similarities that they all have the same point of view. Orpen introduced a valuable method called the stepladder technique, in his article Using the Stepladder Technique to Improve Team Performance. The stepladder technique:

 “aims to improve decision making by structuring the entry of members into a core group and by assuring that each member contributes to the decision-making process. Additional members join the core group one after the other – in steps – provided that they have completed the group task individually first, and present their tentative solutions before discussing the task with members of the core group. The number of steps depends on the size of the final group. For instance, in the present four-member groups, there were three steps. First two members, comprising the initial core group, worked on the task together, until they reached a preliminary solution. Next, a third member joined the initial core group, after he or she had worked on the task long enough to arrive at a preliminary solution. On joining the group, the third member presented his or her solution to the group, after which there followed a discussion among the three members. Finally, when the three agreed, the fourth member entered the larger core group, and indicated his or her preliminary solution, developed from working on the task alone before joining. Finally there was a final discussion aimed to reach a final solution where all concurred.” [6]

In using this technique, not only have you prevented groupthink but you have developed strategic leadership because you have allowed everyone to participate in decision making, and gained commitment to help create a sustainable competitive advantage for your organization.

When?

When is the best time to become a strategic leader and when should it be nurtured and fostered in others?

Now! Opportunities do not last forever so you must seize the moment.

Where?

Where should strategic leadership be developed? It should be developed in every organization.

How?

Developing strategic leadership

How do you develop strategic leadershipI’m glad you asked. Before strategic leadership can be developed in others, a leader must first determine if he or she is a strategic leader. How do you know if you are an effective strategic Leader? According to Hughes and Beatty, effective strategic leaders:

  • impact areas outside of their own functional area/business unit;
  • realize relationships have to be nurtured with followers, vendors and stakeholders;
  • recognize that everyone is interconnected meaning decisions are made and business is completed based on good relationships;
  • keep long-term goals at the forefront while ensuring short-term goals are accomplished; and
  • capacity impacts the entire organization: for example: if the calculation for the cost of living pay increases, then the entire population of the organizations pay goes up. [7]

Based on the above fundamentals, are you able to assess whether you are a strategic leader? If you are, let me share Zarraga and Garcia’s approach to developing a climate for creating strategic leaders in your organization and in your followers. They have conceived a process which they describe as knowledge management in their article Factors Favoring Knowledge Management in Work Teams. The three phases are summarized:

The first is that individuals at different levels in organizations have to create knowledge. Once knowledge is created, those individuals will have to transfer the knowledge to others within the organization to be shared. Lastly, the knowledge transferred plus the knowledge individuals already possess will be integrated to become internalized and ultimately becomes one mass of knowledge. Through this process, knowledge is enhanced and links are created between the minds of the individuals. As this process repeats itself, it becomes property of the organization called organizational knowledge. [8]

Using their process you can create an environment of strategic leaders that collaborate together and are committed to create a sustainable competitive advantage!

Do you agree that it makes sense that all leaders listen to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15, where he urges everyone to encourage, teach, listen to, and respect one another as they recognize each others work efforts? By creating an atmosphere that advances collaboration, and open discussions, you are able to achieve assistance developing a cohesive vision leading to a competitive advantage. If this approach is taken, followers will willingly help because they have ownership of the goal as well as trust and will commit to the leader.

Developing strategic thinking

Since strategic thinking is so critical in reaching the goal of a sustainable competitive advantage, leaders everywhere must understand the characteristics of strategic thinking. According to Becky Starnes in her article Critical Success Factors for Strategic Thinking that Works, strategic thinking is:

  • “the way, in which people in an organization think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and their associates;
  • creating tomorrow;
  • focusing on how to create a better future by being proactive and adding value to society;
  • concerned with taking control of the future by developing practical dreams of the results you want to create;
  • creating and valuing relationships internal and external to your organization;
  • always involves change, and often, profound personal change.
  • imagining the results you want to achieve in the future”; and [9]
  • “focused on creating a vision for the future of the organization, and crafting a clear, concise blueprint for realizing that vision,” a claim by Kluyver and Pearce. [10]

To promote effective strategic thinking in an organization, it is crucial that leadership identify, practice, strengthen and instill the above leadership traits throughout the organization. [11] Kluyver and Pearce believe that these leadership traits improve the firm’s reputation among its stakeholders and among the followers of the organization. In addition, everyone in the company should be developed in strategic thinking competency areas which are: visioning which Sanders states is the ability to see the future, environmental scanning which is the ability to scan your environment for ideas, reframing which is creative thinking, making common sense which is ensuring your followers understand the organizational environment and challenges, and system thinking which is seeing the big picture. [12]

A creative approach to developing the strategic thinking competency ‘common sense’ is called Orienting. This approach by Hughes and Beatty, in their prominent book, Becoming a Strategic Leader, helps you make sure everyone on your staff understands the environment and the challenges they face as well as how they will all work together to solve them. [13] This developmental exercise is an outdoor activity and can be conducted back at your organization’s worksite. I’ve summarized the exercise as follows:

Orienting involves taking a hiking trip into unfamiliar area. Create small teams and send them off with a compass and map to find their way back to the starting point. The team will have to work together by sharing knowledge, interpretations of clues in order to return to the starting point.

This exercise demonstrates strategic leadership at its best because it shows how the team can make common sense out of a chaotic situation (unknown path). It also shows what happens when there is a common vision and a commitment to the strategy of finding their way to their destination.

Conclusion

Leaders, throughout this article, you have learned what a strategic leader is, who should be one, when and where strategic leadership should be nurtured and lastly, how to develop strategic leadership and strategic thinking in your followers. This advice and the practical developmental solutions suggested should help you and your followers create a sustainable competitive advantage.

About The Author:

Bridget has over 21 years of technical experience in the computer industry in support of federal and commercial customers. She aspires to lead her own company and return to the days of character, honesty, integrity, and loyalty. Businesses seem to have lost the incentive to have those qualities, but she wants to restore them for the generations to come.

Bridget Gilmore is pursuing her Doctorate of Strategic Leadership with Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA, and anticipates receiving it in the Fall of 2009. Bridget received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Information Systems from Saint Leo University and her Master of Arts degree in Computer Information Systems, Resource Management from Webster University. 

She can be reached at gilmoreiii@comcast.net.

PHILOSOPHY:  Treat people the way you want to be treated.

END NOTES

 


[1] Ralph Stacey, “Learning as an Activity of Interdependent People,” The Learning Organization 10 (Dec 2003).

[2] Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty, Becoming a Strategic Leader (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

[3] Peter Northouse, Leadership Theory and Practice (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publishing, Inc., 2004).

[4] Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty, Becoming a Strategic Leader (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

[5] T. Irene Sanders, Strategic Thinking and the New Science (New York: The Free Press, 1998).

[6] Christopher Orpen, “Using the Stepladder Technique to Improve Team Performance,” Team Performance Management (1995).

[7] Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty, Becoming a Strategic Leader (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005)

[8] Celia Zarraga and Juan Manuel Garcia-Falcon, “Factors Favoring Knowledge Management in Work Teams,” Journal of

Knowledge Management 7 (2003).

[9] Becky Starnes, “Critical Success Factors for Strategic Thinking that Works,” available from

                   http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/30/07879650/0787965030.pdf; Internet: accessed March 14, 2007.  

[10] Cornelis Kluyver and John Pearce, Strategy: a View from the Top (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006) 148.

[11] Cornelis Kluyver and John Pearce, Strategy: a View from the Top (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006) 148.

[12] T. Irene Sanders, Strategic Thinking and the New Science (New York: The Free Press, 1998).

[13] Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty, Becoming a Strategic Leader (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

 


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Posted on 06/03/2009 by


Strategic Leadership 101 author sourabhhajela

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