What is Strategic Leadership?

British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wait for U.S. President Donald Trump to join them for a family photo at the G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada, June 8. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Businesses often set ambitious goals but most frequently fail to achieve them. According to a survey from Clutch, 77 percent of small business leaders expressed confidence that they would reach all of their goals. 

So, how many small businesses actually reach their goals? 

Only 5 percent. 

That’s a significant gap between a company’s vision and what they achieve in reality. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear there’s a disconnect between what business leaders think they can do and what they actually do

The same survey from Clutch pinpoints where business failure begins. According to respondents, only 15 percent documented their entire strategy. An even more stunning 27 percent didn’t record any part of their strategy.

Without strategic leadership, companies have a weak foundation. As the business grows, there is no strong structure rooted to the ground to prevent things from caving in. If your company isn’t practicing strategic leadership, you’re putting everyone in harm’s way. 

Strategic leadership is crucial for companies to succeed. With so few implementing it, the time has come to fix the problem.

This article will finally set the record straight on: 

  • What strategic leadership is.
  • What it is not.
  • How you can start demonstrating it. 
  • And real-world examples of what a strategic leader looks like.

What is Strategic Leadership?

Strategic leadership happens when a leader shares a vision and goal with their team and inspires them to work together to reach it. A strategic leader often acts as the motivating force for an organization, letting individuals know their role in achieving the vision. This leadership style helps others have direction at all times.

The Qualities of a Strategic Leader

1. Possesses a Clear Vision

Strategic leadership can’t happen without a vision. The vision is what inspires and motivates people to action. It sets the tone for any plans and strategies. With this in mind, a leader must gain that vision before they can take the helm and lead others. Without a clear destination in mind, how could they lead anyone anywhere? 

But a strategic leader is more than a person with a vision. They need to cast that vision onto the people around them. The most effective strategic leaders can get others to share their vision and actively work toward making it a reality.

To gain that vision, you first have to visualize it. Spending anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes every day doing visualization practices will help expand your vision and see the destination in your mind. You can then reverse engineer your vision by looking at what steps you need to accomplish to reach it. These smaller goals are what you can measure to judge how much you’re progressing. They also help you make firm plans that you can communicate with others.

The best strategists are visualists. Once you see what you’re working toward, you can outline it, create correct goals, and motivate people to get involved. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Sharing your enthusiasm for the vision will make others feel it too.

2. Cultivates Innovation

Strategic leaders should have the courage and the mindset to challenge the status quo through innovation. By doing so, they can also instill a spirit of innovation in their organizations. 

Innovation can happen in several ways. You may choose to make iterations on existing products or services. That’s what J. Patrick Doyle, president and CEO of Domino’s Pizza, did in 2013 when the company was struggling. Besides using improved ingredients, he implemented changes such as open kitchens so people could see workers preparing their food. He also launched Pizzavestments, where the company gave Domino’s gift cards worth 500 dollars to startup companies, knowing they would use them when participating in brainstorming sessions. These innovations and others helped Domino’s rebound in the ensuing years.

Innovation can also happen when exploring new ideas and markets as part of a blue ocean strategy. This innovation strategy creates an entirely new space where only the innovator resides. Think of companies like Uber, which took the idea of a taxi service and opened it to everyone with a vehicle and a smartphone. Strategic leadership results in this type of success as innovation reigns supreme.

3. Seeks Wisdom

Strategic leaders also spend their lives seeking and gaining wisdom. They have an unquenchable desire for the truth and follow strong principles wherever they lead. 

Wisdom is a combination of knowledge, application of knowledge, and truth. It constantly tests what works and what doesn’t. Leaders who have wisdom will also desire to share it with others at every opportunity so others may benefit from it.

4. Takes Decisive Action

Once a leader has wisdom, they can then make significant decisions with confidence. This can happen even if a leader doesn’t have all the information they want. Strategic leaders examine all the options, understand the pros and cons, and approach each possibility with an unbiased mindset.

When push comes to shove, leaders must take action. They can do so with certainty if they act according to their principles and values. During decision-making, a leader considers the impact their decisions will have in the short term and long term. They get others involved in the process since they want feedback and opinions from other people, too. 

When they make a decision, strategic leaders never feel like they need to settle for something unsatisfactory. They charge straight ahead, fully committed to what they decide.

5. Focuses on Culture

Another one of the leadership qualities that strategic leaders have is an unwavering focus on culture. They have a clear understanding of the value of a strong culture in an organization. That strong culture has a more beneficial effect on workers than micromanaging them. 

Strategic leaders invest in their culture because they know in the long run that the right culture will have a more positive impact on the bottom line than anything else. As LaKisha Greenwade of Lucki Fit explains, “Cultures that thrive have leadership support, champions throughout the organization, and people who believe in what is trying to be accomplished. Without the buy-in from those levels, it will flop.”

Southwest Airlines is well known as an example of a business with a strong workplace culture. From the beginning, founder Herb Kelleher sought to instill core values in each employee. Those values include working safely, wowing customers, possessing a warrior spirit and servant’s heart, and demonstrating a great attitude. Company leadership reinforces these values at every turn, making Southwest Airlines a success. In fact, 85 percent of employees say they take pride in working for the company.

6. Drives Excellence

Strategic leaders never settle for less, including their own knowledge and skillset. Their leadership strategies depend on constantly developing themselves during their lives. They can do this in a variety of ways. They often meet with other leaders to draw on their experiences and expertise. 

Leaders also spend much of their time learning through reading to expand their knowledge. Warren Buffet says he read as much as 600 to 1,000 pages every day when he started as an investor. Mark Cuban claims he reads three hours a day to grow his confidence and consume as much information as possible. Every strategic leader should make reading a vital component of a leadership strategy.

Leaders can also practice their leadership skills by becoming a mentor. This gives them the opportunity to share with others all the knowledge and experience they have accumulated through their constant drive for excellence. 

7. Refine Strategies

When looking at progress, strategic leaders believe that they and their teams can always do better. They’re constantly searching for ways to refine the work that gets done. They can do this by analyzing current data, checking in with coworkers, and measuring how far they are from hitting goals.

Strategic leaders know that no method is perfect, and there’s always improvement people can make. Maybe a team member will perform better with more resources and support, or perhaps a different coworker prefers a more hands-off approach. Leaders look at current strategies and try to refine them as much as possible so no time or effort is wasted.