All the good strategic leaders I’ve interviewed do these 5 things

We’ve all been there. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control, something else goes sideways ^_^

And somehow, amidst all that, you’re supposed to think strategically about the direction of your team, department, your own career, and your organization.

Think strategically? Sometimes can barely decide which route to take to work. Let alone have more than four seconds between issues that require my immediate attention to think “strategically” about pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Are you kidding me?!

As a GroupM business card holder, I’ve had the conversation with our agency leaders so many times. “OK, I see this needs to be fixed and done properly but there are fires to put out — where are we going to find the time?”. If we drown ourselves in tactical ‘fixing’ there will always be a reason not to do design.

Great leaders — strategic leaders — are able to think and make decisions in such a way that they’re putting the organization on a good trajectory for the future while at the same time making sure the more pressing, present-day matters are handled as well.

I know, I know. You’re thinking that that’s just not possible. But hang in there, because there’s still hope.

Sometimes, our default mode is to manage from in the weeds, rather than leading from a strategic perspective. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, right? Unfortunately, what can happen in those situations is that we fail at both strategic and tactical challenges, and the people who trust us to get s — — done really just need us to do the latter and empower our teams to handle the former.

The strategic leaders I’ve interviewed do this:

Lead through the lens of a framework rooted in our identity, purpose, culture, and values, and above all, simplicity.

Strategic leaders understand that design is a collaborative effort, and some of the architecture has to bubble up from those team members in the trenches. Bottom up design. Author and information security pro Daniel Miessler puts it like this

“Bottom-up is so powerful is because it leverages the concept of information (and value) exchange in order to produce output that’s better than it ever could have been with sole contributors”

Strategic Leaders employ Strategic Foresight. In a data-driven world, foresight is a critical tool for any leader. It helps us understand and analyze the past, better understand the present, and see more clearly the potential and/or likely outcomes of future decisions, actions, and strategies. One practical way, or process to arrive at strategic foresight is to undertake scenario planning, with collaborators. Which brings me to…

Great leaders encourage Strategic Collaboration. Here’s where talents work together to form and refine strategies, and subsequently, tactics. This will help you get additional eyes and minds on the major strategic initiatives you’re considering, but it also helps develop others.

Strategic Decision Making isn’t just about having the guts to make decisions. Strategic leaders need to make choices which are anchored in organizational purpose and identity. Our own Wavemaker are a great example of this happening in the real world, as the culture and mission of the business are front/center of every executive choice made.

Strategic Leaders really empower others. They resist the urge to DIY. They trust. Empowerment isn’t checking in on people every five minutes. Coach them, develop them, and then get out of the way. When your team notice from your body language, tone and words that you truly trust them, they will take charge of their own destiny, both in work and in life.

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The Recruiting Fellow

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Matchmaker. Advocate for good manners. Managing Partner for Talent Acquisition at GroupM North America. My other blog is www.talentbite.com