There’s Something Missing from Most Leadership Advice

I’ve probably said this before, but do a search on “leadership” books on Amazon.com and you’ll find literally millions of titles. Frequently, themes focus on leadership “behaviors” such as integrity, humility, collaboration, listening to others, creating a vision, inspiring others, taking risks, modeling good behavior and so on.

But what about being strategic? I admit, even I have perhaps devalued the concept of true leadership by focusing primarily on the soft skills. Strategic skills may be the most taken for granted, but important part of being a great leader.

Let’s take a moment to think about that word, strategic. Many things come to mind, but I’ll bet if you ask five people, they’ll all say different things. Conversely, if we say “integrity” or “humility” that’s pretty much universally understood. Maybe that’s the problem: it’s too hard to define. Even harder to confirm if one is actually being strategic.

Yet, how on earth can we expect a leader to lead if they aren’t able to synthesize a variety of current inputs to form future possibilities, quickly analyze information and decide which problems to solve, deal with highly complex and unknown issues and “see the forest for the trees?” Well, that’s how I see strategy anyway.

Would you have guessed the word “strategy” originates in a war and military context? There’s a game you’ll see that word a lot, too.

That’s right: Chess.

Photograph of a marble chess set

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Strategic moves” in both war and chess, intend to render opponents useless, and thus claim victory. Interesting that word found its place in business — I guess we want to render our competition useless and win there, too.

I digress. The point is, in war, and chess — where the word originates — strategy is absolutely everything. While practicing humility and integrity finds its way into every leader’s playbook, I’m sure if you asked any senior business leader, they would agree, strategy is essential for growth and profitability.

So, why don’t we spend much time focusing on it from a leadership perspective? Can people be trained on strategic skills? Can you be an effective leader, and not be strategic? I would love to hear your thoughts. Meantime, stayed tuned for the next post, which will focus on how one even attempts to learn strategy.

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