How to Overcome Strategic Leadership Challenges

How to Overcome Strategic Leadership Challenges - Center for Creative Leadership

What’s your strategic leadership challenge?

Are you responsible for leading product development? Growing market share? Driving digital transformation across part of the organization? Are you helping your organization navigate the disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath?

And do you sometimes find yourself competing with other senior leaders and priorities, wondering how to forward the long-term health of the organization?

Much is made of the importance of strategy in today’s organizations. A well-crafted, well-implemented overall strategy that links business priorities to leadership strategy is essential to an organization’s long-term success. Even so, managers and executives often struggle to move strategy beyond setting direction or goals and toward an ongoing process of transforming and sustaining the organization.

The Importance of Strategic Leadership Today

As a strategic leader, you must be able to offer guidance that allows people to make sense of the encompassing world and collective challenges, and also explain how the team as a whole will face them.

Being a strategic leader means having the ability to make common sense of a situation no matter how complex and ambiguous the conditions. This is especially critical in today’s complex and disrupted environment: the COVID-19 pandemic, exploding racial tensions, global trade wars, industry upheavals, and more. This turbulence creates pressure on the organization as a whole, and leaders in particular, who are responsible for guiding the way through change and innovation.

Intense crises and rapid change reveal gaps in organizations’ strategies, preparedness, and ability to respond quickly. Carefully developed, long-term plans can become obsolete overnight as we face futures that are undeniably different than what we anticipated.

When a group faces a challenge that has the potential to create obstacles, it’s often the first instinct of the leader to offer their personal views and ideas to solve the situation. What people often don’t realize is that when one person imposes their personal viewpoint of a situation onto a group, it leads to a shared lack of understanding of the situation and can hinder future progress. Strategic leadership will not happen unless everyone is on board and moving in the same direction, committed to the survival of the whole.

These Behaviors Will Help You With Strategic Leadership Challenges

As a leader in these times of extreme disruption, how can you think differently about your role in order to overcome strategic leadership challenges?

At CCL, we’ve studied hundreds of thousands of leaders as they navigate challenges of all kinds, and can offer some suggestions. In our virtual program, The Leading Strategically Experience, we emphasize the importance of being able to do the following 3 things:

Infographic with the words, 'How to Become a Strategic Leader. Think strategically. Act strategically. Influence strategically.'

1. Think strategically.

Begin with understanding the complex relationship between your organization and its environment.

Using that knowledge, you can then make decisions that facilitate your organization’s enduring success. Rather than try to solve challenges alone, leaders who think strategically invite internal and external experts to bring their wisdom to the table where it can be carefully considered and tested.

Individuals solving strategic leadership challenges don’t rely only on what has worked in the past, but are excited by opportunities to test entirely new approaches. Instead of waiting to be caught by surprise, they revel in scenario planning, learning about future trends, and imagining how they can influence the world to their advantage.

Leaders who endure through challenge after challenge are learners at their core, and they soak up knowledge from everywhere and everyone. They welcome new ideas, debates, and even controversy because they know that standing still is the surest way to be left behind. Rather than concentrate on consolidating power, they engage others in collaboration because the prize they seek is infinitely larger than whatever they currently possess.

2. Act strategically.

Take decisive action consistent with the strategic direction of your organization — despite ambiguity, complexity, and chaos.

Solving strategic leadership challenges today means acting at the speed of change. It’s not helpful to sit in a conference room or on a Zoom call, spending months figuring out your digital strategy while the world is passing you by and doors to opportunities are closing. Leaders used to spend a long time solving challenges and developing strategies, with the idea that having a well-thought-through strategy was better than not having a strategy.

But leaders who think and act strategically are constantly learning and acting. They’re not afraid to re-strategize as they learn new things, and they’re careful to pay as much attention to the parts of the strategy that didn’t work as those that did. Things that don’t work as planned indicate that more learning is required.

3. Influence strategically.

Build commitment to the organization’s strategic direction by inviting others into the strategic process, forging relationships inside and outside the organization, and utilizing organizational culture and systems of influence.

There’s clear evidence that the majority of change efforts fail. While some change efforts are poorly conceived or badly timed, more change failures can be traced to leaders’ inability to influence key stakeholders inside and outside the organization to see the change through.

What’s clear is that new strategic leadership challenges will require new capabilities on the part of the organization. An adaptable organization is characterized by people jumping in where they’re needed without worrying about who’s getting the credit. Obstacles are cleared out of the way so that people who know what to do can do it.

In order to influence strategically, an organization needs a culture that supports collaborative problem solving and relies on high levels of commitment by people to do the right thing, unselfishly.

When leaders think, act, and influence strategically, they’re able to bring individuals across the organization together and build trust in the vision and the goals.

By recognizing opportunities for strategic leadership and finding ways to enact them to solve strategic leadership challenges, you can play a critical role in supporting your organization’s long-term success.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Prepare your executives and senior leaders to overcome strategic leadership challenges. Equip them to build their skills at thinking, acting, and influencing strategically with our virtual strategic leadership program, The Leading Strategically Experience.


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June 22, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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