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Are You A Strategic Leader?

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Last week I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Way to Become a “Strategic” Executive. The piece was written by Herminia Ibarra who is a Cora chaired professor of leadership and learning. In the article Ms. Ibarra points to several struggles in the C-Suite and offers some advice on how to develop more effective strategic skills.

C-Suite Challenges

– 50% of surveyed executives indicate that top executives struggle to set a clear and differentiated strategy

– 50% of executives also struggle to communicate this strategy and get buy-in for it

– 56% indicate they have difficulty assigning resources to achieve the strategy

– 55% struggle to ensure that day-to-day decisions are inline with the strategy

Interestingly, these numbers tie out very closely to our own survey numbers and observations. We often see robust business unit strategies that exist independent of an overarching corporate strategy.

The article then goes on to suggest four steps that an aspiring strategic executive can take to hone their strategic skills.

Four Steps to Make Corporate Leaders Think – and Act – More Strategically

Bring the Outside In – Strategic leaders need to develop a network of well-placed contacts outside the company who can help them understand and navigate the larger market context. Leaders need to aggressively scan for disruptive technologies or market players that have the power to reshape their industries. Strategic executives harness their operational and personal networks in order to connect people, resources and ideas in new ways. The goal is to harness outside connections in order to create new business relationships, opportunities or partnerships for the company.

Balance Internal and External Demands – Time is a scarce and valuable commodity for C-Suite executives who must allocate their time to serve a diverse set of internal and external stakeholders. It is essential that executives strike the right balance between what is mission-critical versus what is optional. Keeping a foot in your profession enhances your ability to add value to strategic decisions but at the same time too much emphasis on your profession can make it difficult to maintain key relationships and get buy-in for your ideas internally. Therefore it is important that executives effectively manage their calendars and periodically rebalance and optimize the mix.

Control Your Strategic Agenda – Executives are often buffeted by a wide variety of “strategic” initiatives many of which are strategic in name only. Executives need to develop a methodology to parse the truly strategic initiatives from the wide swath of activities that are cloaked in the word strategic. Executives also need to clearly understand which initiatives will enable organizational success and invest more of their time in pursuit of these goals – rather than on initiatives which may be important but not bear meaningful fruit.

Collaborate at the Top – The most effective C-Suite teams collaborate effectively at the top. This requires investing time to develop an array of relationships across the executive team. It is all to too easy to run individual fiefdoms and not operate as a team. Acting independently masks the fact that C-Suite executives are truly interdependent. They are meant to provide leadership across the entire enterprise and this requires developing relationships including sharing ideas and best practices across the entire team.

Are you on the path to becoming a strategic executive?


Source: The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2015  The Way to Become a Strategic Executive by Herminia Ibarra

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