How To Improve Key Strategic Leadership Skills

Did you know that only 8% of leaders can be good at both strategy and implementation? A 2013 PwC study supports this finding after conducting a survey among 700 executives. While results may seem disheartening at first, the survey also proves that those who become better strategists will most likely improve execution and implementation as well.

However, what are the strategic leadership skills one should master?  Research completed by former Wharton School research director Paul J. H. Schoemaker, along with two senior managing partners from Decision Strategies International, Inc. (Steve Krupp and Samantha Howland) shows that leaders should learn how to: Anticipate, Challenge, Interpret, Decide, Align and Learn.

Anticipate

While leadership demands individuals to assess and address current issues, learning to think 10 steps ahead can help avoid problems in the first place.

A strategic leader can anticipate upcoming opportunities and possible challenges through market research, social listening and scenario planning. They make decisions that are backed by data and analytics, as this can give insight into rising trends and how it can be implemented in specific situations.

Challenge

It is easy to follow the set formulas found in business books, but when you challenge the norm and question assumptions, success is more likely. This is because the team as a whole can assess and see different points of view.

Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, introduced the concept of “The 5 Whys”. It prompts leaders to assess the “why” behind the problem, instead of the symptoms, to know how to address the root cause.

Interpret

Before anticipating scenarios and challenging the status quo, knowing how interpreting complex and conflicting input and data can help leaders is the foundation of strategic decision-making and leadership.

When interpreting data and findings, assess details and check how they contribute to the overall big picture. Look for missing evidence that might discredit previous assumptions and hypothesis.  Challenge yourself to find better solutions that will lead to stronger results.

Decide

Strategic leaders look for different options, especially since they know that finding the answer is not a black-and-white process. They also assess the gray areas and pinpoint possible trade-offs.

Reframe possible options by looking at different avenues or scenarios. Focus on the pros and cons, conduct pilot tests or experiments, and ask yourself, “What are the short-term and long-term effects before settling with one decision?.”

Align

This is the part where open communication can lead to success because being receptive and open to input will help the organization be on the same page.

Ask stakeholders about their respective goals and how it aligns with company goals. Furthermore, ask insights from team members on how they envision the next steps and what their roles will be.

Learn

Being a leader means that your team will be looking up to you for answers, and this is why continuous growth and learning is crucial. Being open-minded to recent failures and conducting audits can give insight on how to do better next time.

Implement after-action reviews and communicate the results to the whole organization—whether it be positive or negative.

All of that highlights how the importance of being a strong strategist is crucial in a leadership role, especially because being a leader means that you must pivot when facing the unknown. While not all leaders are born strategists, it is skill that can be learned through critical thinking and being open to continuous improvement.

Bea Sanchez

Bea Sanchez is a writer at Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Implementation and Managed Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations. She writes about business & entrepreneurship, branding, and digital marketing—content that educates small and medium-sized enterprises and helps them create informed decisions. Beyond writing articles, she's also fond of copywriting and social media content creation. 

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