A strategic leader understands his or her company’s mission, possesses a vision and a plan for realizing it, and can execute.
By Charles Araujo
I was talking to a man the other day at a corporate event when he uttered the death phrase. “I’m a very strategic person,” he said. I sighed inwardly, immediately tuned him out and politely waited until I could excuse myself. First, if you have to tell someone that you are “very strategic,” there’s a pretty good chance that you aren’t. Second, the idea of the “strategic leader” has become so ennobled in our current business environment that everyone feels they must be viewed as being strategic—or risk being ignored. It has become the corporate equivalent of the “cool kids” at school, and no one wants to be left out.
The problem is that in most cases the talk about being “very strategic” means one of two things. Either it is just blather, just words with nothing behind it. Or, worse, it becomes code for “I’m a big thinker,” with the subtext being “I’m a big thinker who doesn’t actually accomplish anything.” Neither of these will help us. The reason that everyone is talking about strategic leaders is because we desperately need strategic leaders in our IT organizations. So, the important question is, Are you a strategic leader?
I can almost see you mouthing the word “yes.” We all want to be, and to be seen as, a strategic leader. But are you? I believe there are three simple questions you can ask yourself that will tell you whether you are a strategic leader.
Do You Understand Your Mission?
The problem with talking about being “strategic” is that it causes us to think about it in isolation. But being strategic doesn’t start with strategy. It starts with your mission. Forget the over-scripted corporate mission statements. That’s not what I’m talking about. Your mission is simply your purpose. Why do you exist from a professional perspective? It is only in the context of understanding your mission and the mission of your organization that you can begin to be strategic. A strategy is a means to fulfilling your mission, yet most people never contemplate this idea of explicitly understanding their mission.
It is a shame that so many organizations have botched their mission statements. The idea is right. We must start by understanding our true purpose. Who we serve, why we serve them and how we intend to provide value to them. A true mission statement is powerful in its simplicity and its ability to bring people together. And it is the source of everything that follows. So if you want to be a strategic leader, begin with clearly understanding your mission and the mission of your organization.
Do You Have a Vision?
Understanding your purpose is the starting point. It tells you who you are and why you exist. But where are you going? The purpose of a strategy is to define what needs to be done to accomplish some goal or objective. But you need to know what that goal or objective is for a strategy to be effective. A “vision” is simply a picture of some future state. What do you want your organization to look like, act like and feel like when you get to some future point-in-time? When you can clearly articulate your vision, it starts to become real and tangible. It begins to be something that you and your team can see becoming a reality. And as you articulate your vision, what you must do to realize that vision starts to become clearer and clearer.