Being an effective leader requires more than just good people skills – it requires you to have a set of specific and advanced strategic skills.
From creative and strategic thinking to innovation, leaders must continually develop these critical capabilities in order to ensure success in the workplace.
What Are Strategic Leadership Skills?
Strategic leadership skills are abilities you can develop to help you think creatively, strategically, and innovatively. These skills can help design a great business, create new opportunities, and adapt to crises.
Rather than specific to an occupation or position, these skills focus on the individual skills to help grow, sustain, and scale a business. Creative and innovative employees are strategic thinkers.
While you can learn these skills in management workshops and career seminars, you can also foster these strategic skills through business-related projects. Therefore, it can be beneficial for people in any role at a company to develop these skills, even if they aren’t in leadership roles.
The first set of strategic skills requires that you understand your business. Next, you can create value by knowing how to grow and scale your business.
10 Strategic Skills for Leaders
Strategic leadership skills enable leaders to design business strategies that bring extraordinary results. When leaders develop strategic skills, they think and play bigger because they know how the business works and where it is going.
Skills are abilities or talents one needs to perform tasks.
Strategic thinkers are valuable assets of an organization. They can see beyond the day-to-day tactical activities. They can adapt to many situations, especially in times of crisis, because they can see the big picture. I will describe below some strategic leadership skills you can also develop.
1. Customer Focus
Organizations that win are those that create and deliver products that customers love. And the way they do it is by putting customers at the center of their business. We need leaders who focus not only on how to make the customers win.
The old kind of leaders pays more attention to their competition. They think of ways to outwit them and stop them. They believe that the only way to win is to monopolize the business. This still works.
But companies that grow 10x have leaders who focus on customers. They create value for their customers.
2. Business Acumen
Business acumen is your ability to make sound business decisions based on business knowledge, skills, and experiences. Leaders must know how the business works, where it gets its revenues, and what customers expect.
They must know current and future trends, technologies, and policies. They know their competition and the innovations they are doing. They are also aware of the strategies and tactics that work in their industry.
We seldom learn business acumen in leadership skills training. Probably because most of these training programs are “soft skills”. Those leaders who aspire to grow and scale a business must improve their business acumen.
3. Tech Savvy
People expect you to be the go-to guy. Your technical skills ensure that you know what you are doing. It is a common mistake to think that leadership skills refer to “soft skills.” You’ve got to possess technical skills to make informed decisions.
A new generation of workers understands computer technology better than a generation ago. Entrepreneurs are looking at the opportunities artificial intelligence can bring. And we are shifting to design thinking.
The pandemic allowed us to see new ways of learning and working. We need to be one step ahead and being tech-savvy is a necessary step.
4. Technical Learning
Can you quickly pick up technical knowledge and apply them? Technical learning refers to your ability to turn specialized knowledge into skills.
Skills in tagalog is kasanayan. The verb sanay means practice and the noun sanay means expert. This means that to become an expert or to develop skills, one must have deliberate practice.
Have you imagined yourself being the head of the IT department, yet you don’t know how IT works? Of course, that happens in patronage politics, but that will spell trouble for the business.
They seek exposure and experiences with new technologies. As a result, they are not easily intimidated by something they don’t know.
I remember, many years ago, that many teachers are too afraid to use desktop computers. There is even a phobia named after that. The problem is that we expect teachers to be one step ahead.
The same is valid with your organization. Leaders who refuse to expose themselves to new technologies won’t be able to provide input in decision-making.
Being an HR professional, for example, should not limit you to learning only “people skills.” Instead, understanding how your technology and people work can make you a valuable contributor to your organization.
A leader needs to make good decisions. Developing the following strategic skills can help you solve problems, make decisions, and take action in every situation.
5. Quality Decision Making
We expect leaders to take action in situations. Most of the actions they take require big and small decisions. Courageous leaders are not afraid to make quick decisions. But not all decision-makers think equally.
Many leaders make decisions based on what their eyes can see. But good leaders use insight and foresight in making quality decisions. Good decisions are based on data, analysis, intuition, wisdom, experience, and good judgment.
You must be patient in collecting information and humble enough to ask for other people’s opinions and thoughts. It would be best if you had to also the courage to take risks even when not all information is available.
No one is ever right all the time. But the failure or fear to make decisions often cause more problems than not deciding at all.
Our experiences with Covid-19 demonstrated how arrogant leaders ignore the available scientific data. They refused to listen to experts. Because of their arrogance, millions of people died.
On the other hand, we have witnessed leaders who made quick and quality decisions. They consider all the available information. They listened to experts. They made quick decisions that saved thousands of lives.
6. Learning on the Fly
Most of the skills we learned, we learned through deliberate practice. We can do the most complex tasks because we have done them many times.
Learning on the fly is a skill that distinguishes strategic leaders from others. This skill allows leaders to do things for the first time.
Learning on the fly allows them to solve problems they’ve never seen before. Most people won’t try solutions they’ve never tried before. This is why we like to buy tried-and-tested solutions.
Strategic leaders analyze problems in a new context and new ways. The world is changing fast. Leaders must accept that they may need to apply first-time solutions or be left behind. It involves risking for you will try less than perfect solutions.
We all need to learn on the fly.
Learning on the fly is related to agile learning.
7. Problem Solving
We all solve problems every day. Most problems are minor; we don’t need to think long to solve them. However, a few big problems make us think long and hard before we solve them.
Most of us know how to solve problems. But most people don’t do it right, however.
I have seen this many times in my team-building and leadership development programs. Most leaders don’t define the problem and jump to conclusions. And some leaders over-analyze the issues; they don’t try out anything.
Strategic leaders use simple but powerful methods to solve complex problems. They explore all possible sources for answers. They can see hidden problems. And they look beyond the obvious.
Leaders who can solve difficult and complex problems are what organizations need today.
Read: Discover how good supervisors solve problems in seven simple steps.
8. Balances Stakeholders
The leaders’ ability to balance stakeholders allows them to make good decisions for most people. The objective is always to create a win-win decision. Though it is not always possible, stakeholders’ support help leaders make quality decisions.
What can be done?
Identify the key stakeholders. They are those who will be the most affected by your actions. They can be the most resistant. They can also be those whose support you will need the most.
Using an empathy map is a good start. Understanding each stakeholder’s interest and balancing it for the greater interest can help you make better decisions.
This strategic skill helps you become more persuasive too. You will speak about how each stakeholder benefits from your decisions.
Strategic leaders explore what’s new and different. They understand that we cannot solve new problems with same-same solutions. They have 1000x mindset – and they think different.
9. Strategic Mindset
You can find many tactical leaders in organizations. They know how to solve problems in the long term. But there are very few who can see determine which products, services, and solutions can bring them good results over a long time.
Consider how our leader decides for our schools. After two years of being absent from classroom learning, our government decided to send our kids back to face-face education again. Covid-19 is gone (not really, we just got used to it), so we can send kids to school.
However, the previous government lacked foresight, and the new administration talks more about English as a medium of instruction than taking care of classroom shortages.
Leaders must constantly challenge themselves to play bigger and think differently. A strategic mindset is a leader’s ability to visualize the future and prepare for it.
Many of our problems are predictable, but we elected leaders who do not seem to care. You don’t want this kind of leader in your company.
What can you do?
You must take care of the issues of the day and prepare your company for what is to come. You anticipate future consequences based on trends and available data.
You can piggyback on what the advanced countries already know. They are talking about Industry 4.0 and Agri 4.0. You can develop skills that will make you ahead of what’s possible.
10. Cultivate Innovation
You can turn employees into intrapreneurs. You can develop innovators. You can cultivate creativity and innovation in your organization.
Innovators think differently. They see things using different lenses.
They fully understand their markets and see their products and services as solutions. They create and design products that clients are hungry for.
Unlike some salespeople who convince you that you need their products, innovative leaders create products that delight you. They look for many possibilities, some of which the market never imagined they need.
They are aware that introducing something new exposes them to rejection. But innovative leaders never fail because every rejection is an opportunity to improve and find customer-required products.
You can develop this strategic skill. Practice brainstorming tools. Have the courage to introduce new ideas. Some tools will move you from inspiration to execution.
Importance of Strategic Leadership Skills
Leaders need to think like business owners. And business owners who make businesses grow think and play bigger. They need to develop the abilities to create and innovate, to be ahead of what’s possible, and find new ways of doing things.
Leaders with strategic skills understand how to sustain and scale a business.
You can further develop your strategic skills as a leader. Explore the following articles to continue your leadership journey.
- What Leadership Is. Accelerate your leadership learning. Begin by understanding what leadership is all about.
- Increase Leadership Capability. Become an effective leader. Find out what are the things to consider so you can increase your capability.
- Walk the Talk. Leaders demonstrate how things are done in organizations. You can practice what you preach.
- 19 Effective Leadership Principles. Develop your leadership principles.
- 5 Principles to Guide Adaptive Leadership. HBR provided five principles that will guide leaders in times of a crisis like Covid-19.
- 4 Reasons to Invest in Leadership Development. Leadership development provides your organization a greater chance to succeed.
- Top 17 Qualities of Good Leaders. Do you want to become a good leader? Find out which of these qualities you want to cultivate.
- 3 Skills Needed for Adaptive Leadership. These three skills are resilience, influence, and leading change.
- What are the Qualities of Visionary Leaders? They see the world differently, help others see it, and make things happen. This article is informative.
- Develop a personal development plan. I recommend the 4DX framework in developing your personal development plan.
If you have questions about developing strategic skills or want help designing workshops that develop strategic thinking in your organization, contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be more than happy to help you.