You're the boss, but you still spend too much time on the day-to-day. Here's how to become the strategic leader your company needs.
In the beginning, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You coded, you met with investors, you emptied the trash and phoned in the midnight pizza. Now you have others to do all that and it's time for you to "be strategic."
Whatever that means.
If you find yourself resisting "being strategic," because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you're not alone. Every leader's temptation is to deal with what's directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you'll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you're on is leading off a cliff.
This is a tough job, make no mistake. "We need strategic leaders!" is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It's hard to be a strategic leader if you don't know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.
After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what's required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today's uncertain environment – do six things well:
Most of the focus at most companies is on what's directly ahead. The leaders lack "peripheral vision." This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
- Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
- Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
- Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better
- Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
- Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
- Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
- Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
- Encourage others to do the same
- Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
- Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
- Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
- Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views
- Understand what drives other people's agendas, including what remains hidden
- Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it's uncomfortable
- Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support
- Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
- Shift course quickly if you realize you're off track
- Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight
Paul J. H. Schoemaker: Founder and Chairman, Decision Strategies Intl. Speaker, professor, and entrepreneur. Research Director, Mack Ctr for Technological Innovation at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision-making. Latest book: Brilliant Mistakes