Organizations depend on capable leadership to guide them through unprecedented changes. Yet there is ample evidence that even some of the most established organizations are failing to adapt to change, implement their strategic plans successfully, or prepare for an uncertain future.

What can your organization do to avoid the risks associated with inadequate leadership strategy and better prepare your current and future leaders for unforeseen changes?

What Is a Leadership Strategy?

A leadership strategy is a map that aligns investments in leadership development with the strategy, goals, and aspirations of the business.

A leadership strategy makes explicit how many leaders are needed, what kind, where they’re needed, with what skills, and behaving in what fashion both individually and collectively to achieve the desired outcomes.

It also identifies other issues the organization must consider, such as whether current talent systems (like onboarding or performance management) support the culture and leadership you want to create.

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Why You Need a Leadership Strategy

Every leader is aware that a well-defined business strategy is important. But few give thought to the leadership strategy that’s needed to make it happen.

Too often, organizations hold onto an old list of leadership competencies (or just keep endlessly adding to their existing list). Others create talent programs that are too generalized by not factoring in the specific business strategies of their organization.

This disconnected approach to developing organizational and individual leadership won’t equip senior management, up-and-coming talent, or everyday leaders to adapt to change and meet new goals.

When setting bold strategies that call for changes in the direction or capabilities of the organization, the leadership gap must be considered. One of the first questions to ask is: Do we have the leadership we need for the strategy we’ve set?

Read our white paper Turning Crisis Into Opportunity: Preparing Your Organization for a Transformed World to learn the importance of taking bold actions to push toward reinvention.

Define Key Drivers of the Business to Develop Leadership Strategy

Key drivers are the 3-5 determinants of sustainable competitive advantage for a particular organization in a particular industry. Key drivers are not in themselves detailed strategies; instead, they’re the key decisions leaders are making about what the organization must do. For example, in some markets, like the restaurant industry, making certain that customers are satisfied may be chosen as a key driver of success.

Key drivers can be identified by asking a few fundamental questions:

  • Is this an organizational capability that is absolutely vital? Could something else be more essential in causing the vision/mission to happen?
  • Defined relatively, what is most important to competitive success and mission completion?
  • Is this something that the organization is positioned to do better than its competitors?
  • Will doing this well translate directly into continued or future success?
  • Would not doing this well cause the organization to fail?

Identify Leadership Strategy Implications

Once you’ve determined key drivers, leadership strategy implications can be identified. For example, if becoming more innovative is a key driver for your organization, then the leadership strategy implications may be as follows:

  • Greater interdependence among leadership to create more effective collaboration across functions in bringing new products to market.
  • A need to increase leadership involvement across functions in gathering consumer insights and translating these into profitable ideas for new products.
  • Anticipating capital, space, and talent implications of rapidly expanding product portfolio.
  • A need for cultural change to create a spirit of innovation versus a culture of risk aversion.

In reality, the leadership strategy implications would be much more specific, reflecting the actual opportunities and issues surrounding the key drivers. The key drivers and their associated business strategies should have clear implications for what leaders must do well in order for the organization to succeed.

Ultimately, leadership development activities should be designed to ensure that individual leaders and the collective leadership of the organization are prepared to implement the most important strategies related to the key drivers.

5 Factors for Setting a Leadership Strategy

A comprehensive leadership strategy translates these strategy drivers into specific action and should take the following 5 factors into account:

Infographic: 5 Questions to Consider When Creating a Leadership Strategy

  1. Quantity: How many leaders do we need? What are the current and projected leadership positions on the org chart? What about informal leadership positions?
  2. Qualities: What characteristics should individual leaders possess? Who needs to be represented or included?
  3. Skills and Behaviors: What skills, competencies, knowledge, and behaviors are needed to implement the business strategy and create the desired culture?
  4. Collective Capabilities: What capabilities do we need so we can act together in groups and across boundaries to implement strategies, solve problems, respond to threats, adapt to change, or support innovation?
  5. Leadership Culture: What are the key attributes of the desired leadership culture? What leadership practices are essential, such as boundary-spanning, employee engagement, or creating opportunities for others to lead?

Developing the leadership needed to implement business strategies takes careful planning, dedicated effort, and commitment from your organization. But by going through the leadership strategy process, you open the door for more targeted, effective leadership development — and an organizational culture capable of achieving strategic success.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

A strong leadership strategy supports the effective implementation of an organization’s business strategy. Without the right leadership, organizational strategies will remain as plans, rather than being executed successfully. We can partner with you to align your leadership strategy to your vision, values, and business strategy to overcome your current challenges and maximize your ability to thrive – now and into the future.

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