Being promoted to a role with strategic responsibilities is an exciting juncture in anyone’s career. It comes with new expectations. Even more, it often requires quite an adjustment of one’s management and leadership approach.
Instead of adding value by delivering great results—something that has probably brought recognition and reward throughout your career—you now have to provide strategic leadership while your team delivers great results.
Marshall Goldsmith described this necessary leadership pivot in a pithy way:
“What got you here won’t get you there! “
In other words, succeeding at the strategic level in the organization requires a significant shift in how leaders behave and spend their time.
The Strategic Leadership Model
In the following, we present a model, which illustrates the key aspects of strategic leadership. The model indicates our understanding of the main responsibilities of a strategic leader: providing thought leadership, driving enterprise-wide performance and growth, building organizational capability in people and processes, and driving transformation via collaboration and influence.
The manager is now tasked with setting the direction for some significant part of the business by providing thought leadership, especially strategic and analytic thinking, among other responsibilities.
The leader needs to view her task as going beyond the team or function, to the performance and growth of the entire business. Clearly, the leader needs to think about performance in a new way while still assuming responsibility for driving extraordinary results in his/her domain.
The strategic leader understands that she is building a competitive advantage for the long haul. Once promoted again, will her successor have to start all over? Or will the new leader inherit a very strong team with excellent processes?
Organizational leaders need to drive change and transform their organizations to win in the marketplace more than ever. Sometimes, they need to be part of transforming their customers or the market itself.
We view this aspect of leadership as relational: leveraging influence skills and global collaboration, leading in matrix environments—these are key leadership behaviors, which help the company get and stay in front of change.
Who Has the Time to be a Strategic Leader?
We developed our model after years of coaching executives who struggled to find the time to actually do their jobs. A common aspect of all four leadership behaviors at the top of the Model is how time-consuming they can be.
Developing and articulating strategy; thinking about the whole business, its brand, advancing its competitive status in the industry; creating sustainable organizational capability; building and mobilizing coalitions for change.
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The men and women we encountered were only dabbling in these executive behaviors while spending most of their time focused on their direct reports’ jobs: delivering results!
This misstep is all too familiar. Instead of performing their roles of leading the business, they are consumed with doing the work of their teams. It gets at the essence of Goldsmith’s point: You have to lead differently now.
Successful Delegation is Key to being a Strategic Leader
As is clear in our model, delegation is central to strategic leadership because doing so in the right way creates time and builds efficiency. The manager allocates the time necessary for strategic leadership only when he has a talented team that routinely delivers the month, the quarter, the projects, etc.
Delegation also emerges as the barometer of the team’s capabilities because just the thought of making your team responsible for results immediately reveals how strong or weak the group is. A great leader needs a great team.
Talent Management is a Strategic Responsibility
The model illustrates the dynamic relationship between talent management and delegation. If leaders are really going to risk delegating monthly or quarterly results to their teams, it better be a low-risk move. They better be sure their teams can deliver. Thus, strategic leadership involves owning the talent processes, which assures that a great team is in place.
While partnering with strong HR and Talent personnel is critical, leaders must own the outcomes of these processes. Talent Management emerges as a key strategic leadership responsibility. Leaders who make sure they have very strong teams can delegate operational results while they spend the time leading the business.
Optimal Deep Dives?
Leaders who have assembled great teams still “come down” from executive leadership to help their teams create value. Leaders need to take dive deep into the business at various times – to discuss strategy, unique opportunities for growth, possible acquisitions, etc., or just to verify periodically that the team is tracking well.
These optimal deep dives are characterized by the leaders adding value to their team; not compensating for the team’s weaknesses.
This is the most common use of the deep dive: a thinly veiled approach to cover for a weak team and guarantee delivery of results. This vicious circle will have harmful consequences because 1) it assures that organizational capability will not be created, 2) strategic thinking will be relegated to sometime in the future, and 3) a talent pipeline for sustained competitive advantage will not be developed.
Strategic Leaders Build and Lead
Strategic leadership involves key behaviors, which combine to assure great enterprise performance and growth while building sustainable competitive advantage for the future.
Strategic leaders enable both near term results and long-term value creation by building great teams that consistently outperform others while they invest the time to create a strategy and drive transformation through thoughtful delegation of responsibilities.
Wondering if your team is up to the task? Ask yourself this simple question: are you confident your team can deliver results without relying upon your star power?