The Six Hats of Strategic Leadership
As a woman who runs her own business and a media/publishing company, I spend a LOT of time reading about what I believe you, our audience, would find helpful to make you to the most successful ‘you’.
Leadership, and ensuring we are the best leaders we can possibly be, is a big topic for the “women who run it” tribe. We all strive to be not just a “good” leader, but a good strategic leader.
A great article in the HBR about strategic leadership really caught my attention and I wanted to share with you what I learned and how I will be applying it to myself and my business.
Broken down, there are 6 main components to being an effective strategic leader and I now plan on asking myself every day if I have covered all of these bases. In a nutshell, a strategic leader must: Anticipate….Challenge….Interpret….Decide…Align…Learn*
It sounds simple enough but the reality is that every one us as a leader has our strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to examine all six components and make sure that you are improving on those areas where you need the most help.
Anticipation is an area that takes quite a lot of persistence and research. For example, I know that I need to keep up with what is happening in my own industry as well as those industries adjacent to mine. I need to find out what direction my competitors are heading in, and beat them to it. As an Editor-In-Chief I can’t be mired only in my own magazine (ie. my “baby”). I need to see what others are covering, where the trends are, and try to anticipate where the trends are going. I need to attend industry conferences and seminars and I need to ASK QUESTIONS – LOTS OF QUESTIONS – both of my team and our readers/audience. I need to know what they like and what they don’t; which subjects seem to be a turnoff and which garner great reactions. From this, I can anticipate what is going to continue to make us successful in the future and therefore allow us to serve our audience at an even higher level. Anticipating is all about keeping your “ear to the ground.”
Challenging, on the other hand, is not letting myself get too comfortable with the status quo. It may be working for now (hopefully!), but I know that I have to be open for ways to improve and move forward. The best way to do that can be to open myself up to challenges from my staff, my peers, and my readers. I need to welcome critiques from my staff and as such I have given them a “safe zone” to speak their minds. I also have to find great mentors I trust who are outside of my organization, who are not as intimately involved and who will give me unbiased advice. In turn, I continue to learn to be open-minded and patient with constructive criticism. “Feedback is my friend” is one of the mottos I live by.
The ability to Interpret is directly related to the ability to Challenge. If I ask questions, I am going to get answers and ideas. If I have been doing it right, and seeking a wide range of input, I should be getting back divergent answers which I can then submit to intensive scrutiny. If I find a problem, I, as a strategic leader, should want at least 3 possible detailed and well-researched interpretations of why the problem exists. Then I have several angles I can work with in order to solve the problem.
Decision-making is probably the most important skill of any leader and yet it can be so easy to get yourself into a situation where you are forced to make decisions without all the facts, on the fly, or under-informed. If I am functioning as a strategic leader, this should never be the case. If I have been anticipating, challenging, and interpreting, I should always have multiple scenarios and options when it comes time for a big decision and I should have a team whose opinions I can rely on to give me all of the possible scenarios and outcomes. I should also have the strength of my convictions that when I make a decision, it will be the right one.
Alignment can be the trickiest skill to master because it involves dealing with conflict and nipping it in the bud. It means communicating with my staff and my shareholders, keeping them informed, and addressing disagreement or dissent before it has any time to fester. What I never want to hear as a leader is for a key team member to say “Nobody told me,” or “Nobody asked me.” I need to be vigilant to keep those in the loop who should be in the loop, all the time. This is what keeps shareholders and staff (and clients!) happy and feeling valuable and heard.
The last point is probably the most important, and that is to cultivate an environment of Learning. I should always be inquiring and studying my successes and failures in order to learn from them and I want my staff to know that they are encouraged to always be learning as well. I want to reward staff who are thinking of new ideas and taking their own time to learn more about competitors and the industry. I know that I need to “create a culture in which inquiry is valued and mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities”*
Do you think you’ve identified your weak spots as well as your strong suits? I know I have… life is never boring!
* Strategic Leadership: The Essential Skills (article title from Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2013)
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