Strategic leadership is about playing business like it’s chess.
You adapt your strategy to achieve the best results in a changing environment, with one eye firmly on the future.
You know the strengths and weaknesses of each of your chess ‘pieces’ (that is, your team) and understand the risks and opportunities available to you as the game unfolds.
It sounds complicated - perhaps even exhausting! But there are tools and tricks that simplify this approach to leadership. But before we get to that; let’s dive a little deeper.
What is strategic leadership?
A strategic leader takes charge of the direction and organisation of their team. This is often done by creating (and maintaining) a vision that is both inspiring and achievable.
The hallmarks of this leadership framework, aside from a strong vision, include the following:
Research to inform decision making
Not just market or industry research, but listening to your team about their experiences. Continuous feedback (both ways) and knowledge sharing are part of what keeps you at the top of your game.
Horizon-scanning and anticipating the future
This means thinking ahead to upcoming challenges and opportunities that you will face, not just as a leader but as a business and a team.
Thinking innovatively and encouraging your team to do the same means that you’ll already be prepared with a range of ideas - or the techniques to generate them - when something arises that demands a new solution.
As a strategic leader, you’ll use tools like My User Manual and One-to-one meetings to make sure you know what your team is capable of, and to help them achieve it.
Your role is to get the team on board with your vision. In doing so, you align their individual goals with those of the whole team (or organisation). That way, they will feel the perfect balance of challenge and opportunity. And then, using goal setting and progress monitoring techniques (like OKRs) and Goal, Signal, Metric, you use recognition to ensure more great work in the future, too.
When is strategic leadership effective?
Strategic leadership works well in organisations or teams where the leader has some form of creative freedom. If you can’t influence the company’s vision or direction, you can’t respond as strategically to new challenges.
That said, even if your organisation hands down precise protocols that must be followed, you can still work strategically with your own team.
To really make it work, you’ll want to get the hang of the following tactics:
- SWOT Analysis and Retrospectives to bring structure to your strategising
- Circle of Influence and Daily Sharing to help your team (and you) focus your energy where it will have the most impact and to avoid micromanagement
- How Might We and PrioriTree to find and prioritise solutions to upcoming challenges as a team
Teamwork really is crucial here. While you don’t have to go full Democratic Leadership style and give everyone equal decision-making rights, you do want to gain the benefit of their experience. This gives you more diverse perspectives and ideas to work with, as well as making your team members feel heard and valued.
Pros and cons of strategic leadership
- Pros: creates an innovative, dynamic working environment; highly adaptable in the face of change; commercially competitive.
- Cons: can create a tendency to micromanage; can create ambiguity or be disruptive if the vision and direction are changed too often.
Is strategic leadership right for me?
Provided you have the power to influence the direction of your team or the wider organisation in some respect, yes! This leadership style plays nicely with other approaches, too; in fact, it could be considered very ‘strategic’ to pull from other leadership frameworks when the need arises!
For example, use transformational leadership approaches during times of change, or democratic leadership in periods of review to allow people to influence decisions made based on their experiences.
How does strategic leadership compare to other leadership styles?
This framework is one of the strongest approaches you can apply to your leadership practice. Take a look at How to lead: 11 leadership styles and frameworks to see how strategic leadership compares to 10 other approaches.