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Strategic leadership: What it means today

Leaders are called to look beyond current conditions. That doesn’t mean we have a crystal ball or overlook today’s reality. It means we have to ask, what’s next for our organization? Not always easy, particularly in the midst of turmoil, yet essential.

As evidence of the importance of looking beyond, consider recent findings from Gallup.

For more than 80 years, Gallup has studied people and organizations during times of crisis. The organization has observed perspectives dating back to the Great Depression through COVID-19. Its research suggests that in times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can pull people: toward fear or toward self-actualization and engagement .

On the engagement front, when leaders present a clear path forward, people demonstrate great resilience. There’s a rallying effect as we pull together toward a common vision to move beyond crisis. That’s why mission and vision for the future are more important in organizations today than any time in recent memory.

Per Gallup, one thing is clear. People look to leadership for a crisis management plan, and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.

Strategic leadership means leading for today, tomorrow and beyond

In today’s environment as the next new normal is being defined, strategic leadership manifests through helping shape a new paradigm for your organization. Leading the long view takes place by engaging team members in creating co-ownership of the future-state vision and strategy that will bring the vision to life. Vision is distilled into actionable priorities, which become the day-to-day operating plan guiding all team members in performing their work.

Strategic leadership recognizes the next stages of new normal will be iterative

Some sectors of the economy will move faster or undergo greater structural reshaping than others over the next 18 to 24 months, resulting in a series of new normals. Agility in adapting to a fragmented recovery matters. Even with clarity that things won’t be getting back to the normal we knew, strategic leadership today requires acknowledgement that the landscape will continue to change. Context for this perspective helps; the old normal was only a temporary point on a continuum of change. The coronavirus accelerated, moving us to the next point.

Strategic leadership capitalizes on opportunities for adaptive disruption

Something happened that changed our world. Instead of waiting to see how things play out and what everyone else does, strategic leaders define how to move forward based on what we know today, by proactively adapting strategy.

Vision connects what an organization does to the external world. When the world changes, it is essential to revisit the future state vision to see if it still resonates.

Ask yourself: All things considered, will this vision still fit our business in the next new normal, or do we need to refine our future-state picture? The needs of the customers you serve might have changed. The industry's structure might be in flux. The key is determining whether the vision needs refinement. Vision informs priorities, which anchor the operating plan.

When you start with the vision, you focus on cause, not the effect. We can manage cause; we only measure effect. Focusing on cause empowers strategic leadership today.

Warren Buffet once wrote that "you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." The current low-tide environment calls for strategic leadership. The coronavirus event helped us see new strengths and development needs within the organization, including observations of the overall business model.

If this event has helped see previously unrecognized development needs of your team members and the business overall, capture it for what it is: an opportunity to grow as your next new normal begins.

There is a lot we can’t control or influence. Let’s take what we can impact and start shaping a future that helps team members see how their work connects to the organization’s future-state vison as you lead during the next new normal!

 

Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His practice works with senior executives developing clarity about their vision and the business models that support it, implementing change and getting results. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is "Leading from Where You Are" (January 2020). For more information, visit his website.

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