The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 1

I spend the majority of my working life helping individuals and executive teams understand the connection between who they are as people and their effectiveness as leaders. That most often results in clients doing exercises over the course of months and years to become more humble, empathic, curious, emotionally mature, personally secure, and well-developed in various other inner qualities. The end goal is more effective leaders who produce better bottom-line results while creating better lives for themselves and everyone around them.

That said, there is more to the world of leadership than the inner development of leaders. Though strategy, execution, and motivation are less statistically significant than most leaders assume, they are still important leadership topics. So for a number of weeks forward we are going explore what is perhaps the most noted and sexiest of all leadership topics: strategic thinking.

There is no shortage of strategy theories in the world. Porter’s 5 Forces, Ohmae’s 3C’s, and McKinsey’s 7-S Framework are a few of literally hundreds of theories that exist to help leaders and organizations make strategically astute decisions. It might seem unnecessary, then, to add more dialogue to the mix. But that’s not so if a few more words can codify the overarching ideas that make a leader strategic.

Hallmarks of Strategic Thinking

Many of the world’s strategy theories can be summarized into three actions. All three are needed for leaders who desire to maximize their ability to think strategically.

(1) Prioritize the Hunt for Better — Simply put, strategic leaders are agents of positive change. They not only have a bias towards continuous improvement and against the status quo, but they intentionally prioritize time and energy for themselves and others to discover improvements. They don’t allow themselves to look for just one kind of improvement; instead, they look for both incremental progress and monumental, game-changing paradigm shifts.

(2) Preemptively Explore the Ripple Effects — Leaders who think strategically are forever conscious that few decisions live in isolation. These leaders understand that each choice has a ripple effect that extends through the layers of the organization, relationships both inside and outside the organization, and time between the current and future states of the organization. Strategic leaders also understand that, parallel to what science has taught us about the physical world, every action produces a reaction. Before moving forward, strategic leaders consider how each party involved is likely to react to each path the leader might choose. Much like world-champion chess players consider their moves and the potential reactions of their opponents to those moves many iterations forward, strategic thinkers consider the ripple effects of their decisions and others’ reactions to those decisions many steps into the future.

(3) Proactively Develop a Wide Swath of Relationships — In one way of thinking, this is a corollary to Preemptively Explore the Ripple Effects applied to the domain of human relationships. Strategic leaders live and lead with the knowledge that little gets done without relationships. They understand the need to develop relationships with people before those connections are needed for any particular purpose. Building relationships proactively before they are needed accomplishes two important things. (1) In the volatile world in which we lead, it is nearly impossible to identify ahead of time all of the relationships that will be needed to accomplish current goals. So having a broad range of relationships is helpful to address the unknowns that will confront the leader. (2) Relationships can’t be healthy if they exist strictly for the use of achieving goals. So establishing them before they benefit the leader — and being willing to give more to any relationship than the leader takes from it — is a way to keep relationships healthy even as they become useful for achieving goals. Lastly, strategic thinkers know that their understanding of the world is improved by exposing themselves to a broad range of people. As such, they invest in relationships beyond the most obvious candidates both inside and outside their organizations.

You, The Leaders You’re Developing, and Our Upcoming Blog Posts

In our next three blog postings, we will explore each of the three hallmarks of strategic thinkers in detail. Along the way, you’ll hear examples of each in action. As you read, the stories will create opportunities for you to evaluate yourself and the leaders you are developing against these markers. So stay tuned. Let’s take the next few weeks to explore just how strategic we are.

Share Your Thoughts: Think of the most strategic leader you’ve ever followed or observed. What made that leader so strategic? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.
Tim Spiker About Blog AuthorClick here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you’ll receive a sneak peek of the soon-to-be released book Who* Not What: The Hidden Truth About Leadership.

Please note that we reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, offensive, or off-topic.

  • Allison Hosack

    I can think of two leaders I’ve worked for who have excelled at being strategic, or the art of strategerie as I like to call it. One thing they both had in common is what I’ll call perspicacious stewardship (in keeping with the “p” theme) of relationships and requests. Not only did both of them have the well developed network that you mentioned in your post, but they also exercised a lot of thought and wisdom around what they asked of the people in their network as well as when and how often they made those requests. The result was that the people in their network always seemed to be ready and able to come alongside them, I suspect because they knew that the need was real, they were the appropriate person to help, and they trusted that the request had been well thought out.

    • Allison, based on what you shared, I suspect the strategic leaders you’ve observed valued relationships for more than what they could extract out of them. People whose bent is to use relationships for their own benefit don’t tend to have people in their corner at the precise time it is needed. So while these strategic leaders had wisdom in the timing and nature of their requests (which I would link back to their ability to Preemptively Explore the Ripple Effects), I’m guessing they didn’t approach relationships with a primarily selfish motive. Given that you know of them, is that on or off base?