Becoming a More Strategic Leader

Most leaders consider their approach and perspective to be strategic yet they are often operating at a much more tactical level than they realize.  To build your effectiveness as a leader, there are always places to expand your thinking and become more intentional in your strategies. To build the muscle of “strategic leadership” it is necessary to:

1. Choose a broader perspective. When looking at a situation, challenge yourself to look beyond the exterior or presenting issues. This can feel difficult, odd, or even impossible but as you spend time and energy choosing to expanding your perspective you will see more and be more strategic in your approach. We can learn to broaden our perspective.

2. Understand and embrace complexity. At a psycho-neurobiological level, most humans are programmed to make sense of things very quickly. We simplify things in order to promptly understand them and take action. However, being strategic requires more thought, the ability to unpack complicated issues, and looking at things from different perspectives. This is necessary to tackle challenging situations. By necessity, you must look at complexity across markets, across companies, across technologies, across business processes, etc. This isn’t easy, but part of being more strategic is being willing to engage with complexity rather than oversimplifying things too quickly.

3. Be able to map interconnections. This involves a certain amount of strategic vision, and is no easy task. But if you learn to map out causal relationships, to see how one decision or path would impact others, you will be able to not only embrace complexity, but also effectively implement complex strategies. This will strengthen your performance and outcomes no matter the size of your team, project, or overall venture.

4. Get comfortable with ambiguity. Being strategic involves handling the unknown—something most people are decidedly uncomfortable with. We seek clarity. We are wired to simplify things. We want to know the answer, to get it right and minimize risk. We want to move forward with confidence. However, that impulse can actually be detrimental to our work. Avoiding ambiguity can lead us to be hasty and come up with solutions to problems that are still unsolvable. In order to be more strategic, we need to cultivate comfort with ambiguity. Doing so will enable us to generate multiple options, multiple scenarios, and multiple perspectives.

At the core, what we really want to do to become a more strategic leader is widen our lens. If we take a panoramic photograph rather than a straightforward shot, we are able to see across the horizon, beyond what’s right in front of us. Like a panoramic view, widening our lens allows us to be more knowledgeable about our pursuits, clearer about the path forward, and ultimately more strategic.

All of this is hard work. Of course it’s much easier to stick with what’s familiar, especially when your approach to strategy feels so natural. And of course we all need to move projects off our plates. But I want to encourage you to acknowledge that there are other options. Here are four of them. So take the time to expand your perspective, to embrace complexity, to map interconnections, and to be open to ambiguity. You may find that a new approach allows you to ask better questions, make better decisions, create better solutions, better products, and better services. It will take you in a much more innovative direction, one with long-term benefits.

Weekly Uplevel Practice

Reflect on the projects and initiatives you’re currently engaged in and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I being strategic enough?
  • Is my view wide enough?
  • Am I really looking at the complexity?
  • Do I understand the interconnections?
  • Am I handling—and, in fact, pursing—ambiguity?

If you find that your responses to any of these are lacking, address the problem head-on. Widen your perspective. Create a clearer map. My hope is that you allow yourself to take these actions and really start building that capacity to be more strategic in your leadership.