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Strategic Leadership: Key Definitions

At the center of anything strategic is a purpose that needs to be fostered, enhanced, or nurtured. So, when you hear the word strategic think purpose, priorities, strategies and the tactics you use to achieve your purpose.

Strategic Leadership
Strategic Leadership is about finding the future and making it happen! Its focus is on the creation of meaning and purpose for the organization. Its aim is to determine the ends, choose the best ways, and apply the most effective means. Strategic leadership is first about the thinking and decision making required to devise and effect a a plan (we call the plan a statement of intent) that is feasible, desirable, and acceptable to one’s organization and partners. Once this task is accomplished then strategic leadership becomes about how to execute the plan.

Strategic Leaders
The core activities of a strategic leader focus on strategy development, communicating, networking, and execution. Singularly and/or with others, they establish direction and then mobilize people, capture resources, and create an adaptive learning culture to move toward it.

The core attributes of strategic leaders are possession of a strategic mindset, an ability to learn, ability to change, and wisdom. A strategic mindset is an open mindset focused on the questions of why and what and then later on how and when. It enables leaders to understand prevailing worldviews driving their context.

The ability to learn requires greater cognitive complexity and involves the capacity to recognize new information, assimilate it, play with it, analyze it, reorganize it, judge it, and then apply it to new ends. It requires abstract, intuitive, and integrative mental processes to synthesize disparate information and patterns. Strategic leaders learn from their own experience and the experience of others.

The ability to change also is facilitated by greater degrees of cognitive complexity which enable them to see the larger system which they are part of, and enable openness to new ideas and holistic thinking, as well as greater behavioral complexity to build shared understandings and larger vision among others.

Wisdom involves the ability to sense, perceive and understand variation in the environment, and the shrewdness to understand others and their interrelationships with key social actors, and the acumen to take the right action at the right time. 

Strategic leaders used these attributes in an ambidextrous way. They switch back and forth between prediction based on analysis using existing information and creation based on synthesis and integration generating information that does not exist or is inaccessible through conversations, observation and prototyping to guide thoughts and action.

The purpose of strategy is to align and integrate the daily work of all employees around a common, focused direction. Strategy, therefore, links ends, ways, and means. Your strategy is comprised of the priorities you set; the steps and projects you take to set direction and make it happen. The directional strategy is encoded in a statement of intent. The operational strategy is found in the actions of organizational members and units.

Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking is intent focused. It is centered on ends, strategies, and tactics.  It is a synthesizing process that employs creativity and intuition that results in an integrated view of what the organization stands for and hopes to become.  Strategic thinking results in a one page statement of intent that describes your mission, your values and your aspiration for your company, team, organization, life, family or career. It identifies the strategies and tactics which guide the organization in  putting  its Intent into practice. It requires open minds and people who are comfortable working with ambiguity.

Strategic Thinking Skills
Strategic thinking is about thinking centered on ends, strategies, and tactics. It is only meaningful in a context. The greater the capacity to use strategic thinking skills; the greater the ability to make consequential decisions about ends, strategies, and tactics. Great strategic thinkers have a systems perspective, are intent driven, creative, intuitive, integrative, and analytical.

A leader’s ability to think strategically is enabled by acquiring and honing cognitive skills which enable them to collect, interpret, generate, and evaluate information and ideas that shape and influence the ends that they seek as well as the strategies and tactics they use to achieve those ends.

Strategic Way
Strategic Leadership (SL) is not a style, nor is it reserved for top echelon leaders. It is a way of thinking and way of working by managers and leaders throughout the organization. 

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