What is a Strategic Leader? A Person of Imagination

Strategic Leadership Model

Recent attention to the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission remind us of their key finding: A failure to “connect the dots” and imagine what was being planned by the terrorist community was an important contributing factor to the September 11 attacks.  The Commission concluded that “the most important failure was one of imagination.”

While the notion of imagination is generally treated in a light-hearted, Disneyesque fashion, what the Commission was saying that in the pre-9/11 world, our country’s leadership lacked the kind of strategic thinking it would have taken to keep us to have a truly effective defensive strategy in place.  That in mind, the graphic above and text below show the capabilities necessary for strategic leaders. 

Strategy and Decision
Strategic leaders make sound decisions.  They frame issues for their organization and insist that facts and data are gathered and considered. They facilitate a decision-making process by involving a diverse and appropriate set of people.  They make sure that the organization learns experience and adapts the decision-making process based on this learning.

To master strategy in an industry or competitive domain, the strategic leader must immerse him or herself in the four domains of strategic thinking:

  • Emergent Strategy and Imagination
  • Deliberate Strategy and Strategic Planning
  • Outward Focus
  • Inward Focus:  Builds Core Competence

Emergent Strategy and Imagination
Strategic Leaders excel by imagining and exploring new opportunities and innovative ways of doing things.  They think strategically, which means they are thoughtful about the long-term future and are insightful about the competitive landscape surrounding the organization they lead.

Outward Focus: Understanding the Competitive Landscape
Strategic leaders are engaged in matters of strategy.  They understand the competitive landscape and the dynamics of industry and regulation that affect the positioning of their organization.  They attend to competitive intelligence and understand the importance of gaining and protecting competitive advantage.

Inward Focus:  Building Core Competence
Strategic leaders understand the core competence and key capabilities important to winning and succeeding in their competitive landscape.  They recognize the importance of talent and focus on keeping a competitive team and workforce.  They monitor and attend to performance at the individual, unit and organizational level.

Individual Capabilities

Leadership
Strategic leaders determine the course their will business or enterprise will follow over the intermediate and long term future and make this direction clear to others.  they inspire, coach, teach and lead the way. 

Integrity
The strategic leader must embody the vision and values of the organization.  As Gandhi said, leaders must “be the change they seek to create.”  Leaders of integrity are humble and share credit, they think in terms of learning from experience rather than blaming, they are kind and respectful toward all members of their organization, and they are courageous when ti comes to risk-taking.  They can be trusted to follow through on commitments.

Business Acumen
The strategic leader must possess business acumen and drive.  Whether in the for-profit or non-profit world, leaders must understand principles of cost control, revenue generation, stewardship of capital and risk mitigation.