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Strategic Leadership: 101

business tips high performing teams leadership development strategy Mar 28, 2022

As you move into the Director level of the organization, the VP of the organization and definitely the CEO, we need to move towards being strategic in our leadership. People have often given me the compliment of what a big, strategic thinker I am. To be honest, at the time I was getting those compliments at the beginning of my career, I was just faking it. I had no idea what it meant to be a strategic thinker.  Halfway through my first director role, I got some very sound advice from the Director of Athletics at Harvard who I had invited to review our program. It was wisdom that has stuck with me till this day.

In order to be a strategic thinker, stop thinking about today and start thinking about tomorrow. Your job is to focus on next year and three years from now. What do you need to do today to make next year’s goals and the goals three years from now happen? Operational thinking is what we do day to day taking care of business. Strategic thinking is thinking about what you aspire to do.

This advice really resonated with me. It helped get me out of the weeds and focus on a long term plan of action. For me strategic thinking starts with building a strategic plan.

A typical strategic plan will focus on these three concepts:

  1. Stakeholder feedback and consultation

  2. Articulating goals and strategies

  3. KPIs and measuring outcomes

Where we get stuck at times is trying to figure out where we want to be a year from now or three years from now. If you are new to the strategic planning process, it sometimes seem daunting to know the answers. Here’s a secret: you don’t need to know. Look around you at the best practices, pick up the phone and talk to your peers and colleagues, go on the road and visit those who are in your field and leading the way. Ask them questions. Go in with an inquisitive mind and a curious gaze. If you want to be the best, find the best and model their actions.

Once you’ve written a strategic plan, you might put it on a nice, glossy sheet or in a fancy binder. You may print a prospectus to pass around, and then be done with it. Some organizations really don’t come back to it for another 3 to 5 years. This is a problem and doesn’t speak to a high-performance culture. Other organizations will do slightly better by touching on it yearly or by tying their performance goals to it. However, what I have found to be the best way to ensure a strategic plan is successful is to weave it into the day-to-day and week-to-week structure of your leadership.

At budget time, key budget asks are only approved that are tied to the strategic plan. I can only be engaged in so many activities, my calendar and attendance will be tied to initiatives that support the plan.

My visible support will be lent to the key strategic events. Soon, everyone on the team will come to understand: Don’t bring a priority, a budget request or my attention to actions that you can’t speak to amplifying the strategic initiatives of the department or organization.

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