Strategic Leadership: Understanding its Purpose and Core Attributes

You can’t have strategy without leadership. Strategy formulation requires a clearly defined vision, long-term goals, useful tools, and a plan to win. But without the guidance of an insightful leader who can drive the process, it is difficult to make any strategy a reality. Ultimately, strategic leadership is what makes the difference between success or failure.

Regardless of the position you hold in an organization—senior leader, mid-level manager, front-line manager, or leader of a group—your organization needs and wants you to lead strategically. When it comes to excelling as a leader, you cannot afford to stay in a strategic cocoon, insulated from a turbulent business environment and neglecting your responsibilities to think and act ahead of the curve. Markets, rivals, and the business environment all change too fast, are too complex, and are too competitive on a global scale for you not to be looking forward and leading your part of the business in a proactive way.

Why Does Strategic Leadership Matter?

Leadership today is about more than just being operationally effective, solving existing problems, and guiding people through the routine work that needs to be done each day. The key to being a successful strategic leader is balancing two important skills:

  1. Delivering business results and meeting today’s expectations.
  2. Acting on opportunities, issues, and concerns that will affect tomorrow’s results.

Remember: thinking, planning, and acting strategically should never be viewed as the sole responsibility of senior leadership. In these challenging and exciting times, it is vitally important to integrate a strategic mindset into the very heart of the organization and enroll leaders—at all levels—in creating strategic plans for their parts of the business. That said, it’s unrealistic to expect leaders to work in a strategic mode all the time. However, leaders can make it a habit to look at everything they do through a proactive, strategic lens. People who combine their leadership style with strategic ideas and plans are far more likely to achieve the results they desire because it is a person’s fundamental behaviors and frame of mind that brings strategy, goals, and plans to life.

group writing on papers planning strategy

Attributes & Characteristics of a Strategic Leader

Many works on leadership focus on why organizations need to build their strategic-leadership bench strength at all levels of the business, but they don’t thoroughly investigate and define how strategic leaders think, feel, and act as they set direction and execute on strategic goals and targets. Our research indicates that leaders are hungry to know the unique leadership qualities that are necessary to be a driver and shaper of the future. In fact, we found that most organizations have a leadership-competency model with a dimension that specifically addresses the ability to think and act strategically. Here are some examples of the skills and expectations of a strategic leader:

  • Demonstrates a “big picture” view of the business
  • Ensures alignment with overall strategies
  • Recognizes emerging patterns and trends
  • Courageously drives change
  • Anticipates customer needs
  • Considers the future in making decisions
  • Seeks innovative ways to contribute to the growth of the business
  • Identifies new business processes that are key to future success

In our latest book on strategy, The Art of Strategic Leadership, we also explore seven essential qualities of strategic leaders that have the greatest impact on setting a direction and helping the organization change:

  1. Ownership
  2. Tenacity
  3. Risk
  4. Agility
  5. Awareness
  6. Driving Change
  7. Vision

All leaders must possess and use these core qualities in order to lead and transform their teams and organizations for long-term, sustained growth.

The future speeds toward us with greater velocity, more complexity, and greater uncertainty, but we still have a choice in how we respond to these challenges: we can either be driven by the forces of change or we can choose to be proactive and drive. Being a driver means taking some risks, running some experiments, anticipating and preparing for eventualities, and offering innovative solutions.

To learn more about how CMOE can help you or your organization develop greater strategic-leadership bench strength, visit our website or reach out to a representative.

About the Authors

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.

Stephanie Mead

Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.

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CMOE

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.