Many of us tend to see others as leaders but fail to see that we are all leaders in certain situations at home and at work. Deciding on a course of action and following up with implementation is leadership in action, and when we plan for the medium to long-term future for our families or for our teams or work colleagues, we are engaged in strategic leadership. The planning of strategy is an integral part of leadership and successful leaders know how crucially important it is to devise a strategy for current and future success. Strategic leaders define the long-term vision and lead on its implementation, thus providing the best chance for continued, future success.
More than anything else strategic leaders are influencers with vision and purpose, who focus on the big picture, who know what success looks like, and can lead an organisation to exploit its full potential, thereby achieving future success. Such leaders are best described as strategists who act out their vision by leading transformation with purpose and drive. They are effective in strategy creation; they are equally effective communicators who create connections between ideas, plans and people. They are forward-thinking and focus on solutions. They are well informed, they think deeply, act with integrity and influence others to promote success. Being more reflective they tend to make better decisions. Strategic thinking is what senior leadership is all about.
While managers will focus on the status quo and deal with functional and operational problems, strategic leaders will have a long-term focus and will often challenge the status quo or prevailing viewpoint because their primary focus is on strategic transformation and innovation. As they usually think outside the box they will ask tough questions about processes, direction and organisational effectiveness. They are well informed about growth potential and know success is important because it gives a competitive advantage. Organisational effectiveness is enhanced by the ability of good leaders to think and act strategically.
Leaders who are strategic thinkers will anticipate how to respond to changes in technology, changes in the economy, and changes in consumer behaviour. They are adaptive, creative and will take necessary risks because they will seek to future-proof their organisation by anticipating what success looks like in the future.
The mission of the strategic leader is informed by their vision of success in the future. They set clear objectives with a coherent and credible framework of actions. Strategic leaders implement strategies to achieve organisational excellence by reflecting on challenges, anticipating and responding to change, and by aligning systems, processes and people to achieve success. Strategic leadership goals are not aspirational; they are solidly founded on a deep analysis of current and future trends. They define what is to be achieved and are supported by SMART objectives.
A further essential attribute of strategic leadership is the ability to communicate effectively. Strategic leaders are people-focused and communicate their vision and goals via different channels. Honest and effective communication is essential to enlist support for the leader’s vision and goals. Strategically, a vision for the future, supported by an implementation strategy needs to be shared if it is to be fully realised, so engaging others is essential for successful implementation. The strategic leader’s purpose for communicating a strategy with goals and rationale is to recruit supporters. Internally, the organisation’s senior management personnel and teams need to understand the value of what is being proposed, if their support is to be forthcoming. A shared strategic vision, which is understood and supported, will then create a positive, cooperative culture that is aligned with the leader’s goals and vision.
A vision without a strategy is a dream. A vision without support is a delusion. The best strategic leaders are capable and confident communicators who create connections, build loyalty and enlist allies. Confidence in and loyalty to a leader provides the impetus for the strategic and transformational change which the leader seeks to implement.
Strategic leaders will also encourage objective analysis of strategies by others within the organisation and among leadership teams. They willingly share information, especially about the nature of the current organisation and how it might change. They will often encourage innovative thinking and promote innovation through cross-functional teams which address collective challenges. In this way, teams can input into transformational strategies and thereby have some degree of ownership, which assists the strategic leader in the implementation of his or her vision for the future development of the organisation.
Strategic thinkers who are leaders are successful because they can analyse critical factors and variables that will influence the long-term success of their own careers or the organisations they lead. They understand current and future threats and opportunities and can manage change by developing and winning support for a clear set of goals and strategies, created to survive and thrive in a competitive and changing operational environment. They can analyse research data and they can drive innovation because they have well-developed problem-solving skills. They are decisive in their leadership and are capable communicators.
Strategic leadership and strategic decision-making, informed by a strategic vision and intent, can inspire innovation and transformation to secure future success. If leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality, then strategic leadership is rated best for future success. The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it- Abraham Lincoln.