What Does Being a “Strategic Leader” Really Mean?

Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram has made headlines recently when they purchased the popular photo-sharing site for a cool $2 Billion Dollars. Did you know that for the 2 Billion Facebook paid for Instagram (which is less than 2 years old), they could have bought out recently bankrupt Kodak 10 times over?


The lesson, one we all know, is that we ignore change at our own peril. While many leaders understand this, there are still some who lack the foresight and peripheral vision to see the forces that will shape the future. I love this article in Inc. Magazine about the 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers, including Anticipate, Think Critically, Interpret, Decide, Align and Learn. I found myself wondering about the investment and commitment Kodak (and many other companies like them) made in developing their leaders and helping all employees be more “strategic”.

So often, we see being “strategic” as the opposite of “practical” or “realistic”. The ability to be strategic is valued very differently in different companies. Many companies and organizations value operational excellence more than they value their strategy – and that can be the right thing to do. However, all companies need true strategic leaders to navigate the future, and too often successful “operational leader” types get promoted to senior positions and can’t navigate their way out of a paper bag.

So how do you build or develop the right strategic leadership skills within your organization? I think it comes down to:

  • Encouraging and rewarding risk, even when the result is failure.
  • Utilizing tools to encourage collaboration and develop new ideas. Tools like Yammer which enable collaboration, idea generation and building are critical if you want experts to talk to other experts to come up with the next big thing.
  • Having a stellar method to identify and reward key talent, even when those individuals seem out of the “box” and don’t fit the job description or criteria laid out on the performance review.
  • Cross-training across key functions, to encourage innovation and get people to see things in a different way.
  • Operating outside of the organizational structure by pulling together cross-functional teams, with participants across all levels in the organization.

While these are just some examples, I think it’s critical that we reassess the value we place on strategy and the impact that the lack of strategic thinking can have.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at sbrowning@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults