How you lead is just as important as what you are doing.

That underlying belief can make the difference between success and failure in a complex, changing world.

CEOs who understand the importance of a leadership strategy are explicit about the kind of leadership they need to achieve the business strategy. To set their leadership strategy, they first examine the key drivers of the business for implications for leadership, according to CCL’s Bill Pasmore.

“Key drivers are the things that make your business strategy unique,” he says. “What key choices are you making about how to position the organization?”

Key drivers are few in number and help you understand what is absolutely essential for the organization to accomplish. They are not detailed strategies; instead, they are core decisions about what the organization must do. As Pasmore notes, Apple’s key driver is innovation.

“Do you think people there feel that?” he says. “Do you think Steve Jobs reinforced that as a leader and in the people he promoted around him? Why do we laugh at the Apple commercials that bash Microsoft? If Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is sending a message about innovation, it doesn’t seem to be getting through. Chances are, Microsoft needs a new leadership strategy.”

Key drivers can be identified by examining each business strategy or initiative and 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?
  • 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?


Being explicit about what drives your business and knowing how to create a leadership strategy is what separates Apple and Microsoft. What is your company’s key driver? Is your leadership strategy bringing that key driver to life?

Learn more about key drivers and how to set a leadership strategy:
Developing a Leadership Strategy: A Critical Ingredient for Organizational Success

Get the Whole Leadership Picture

Setting a leadership strategy first requires a comprehensive understanding of leadership in your organization. This begins with individual talent and competencies, but it doesn’t end there. The ability of formal and informal leaders to pull together ultimately makes the difference in whether you accomplish your goals.

To get a full picture of leadership, you should consider:

  1. The quantity of leaders needed, as indicated by current and projected formal leadership positions depicted on an organization chart (number, level, location, function, business unit, and reporting relationships).
  2. The qualities desired in selection (demographics, diversity, background, experience level).
  3. The skills and behavior that are needed to implement the business strategy and create the desired culture (skills, competencies, knowledge base).
  4. The collective leadership capabilities of leaders acting together in groups and across boundaries to implement strategies, solve problems, respond to threats, adapt to change, and support innovation.
  5. The desired leadership culture — including the leadership practices in use — such as collaboration across boundaries, engagement of employees, accepting responsibility for outcomes, creating opportunities for others to lead, developing other leaders, and learning how to learn.

A good leadership strategy takes all of these factors into account. Simply having all of the leadership positions on the organizational chart filled or hiring talented individuals will not produce the leadership that is required to implement strategy, lead change, and drive innovation.

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