Strategic Leadership Examples

Now that we’ve looked at a practical approach a leader can take in charting the course for their organization, let’s start working through some strategic leadership examples we can follow as we move intentionally toward the goals we’ve set for our organizations! But before I ever reference a single external article from someone, somewhere, who’s telling us what we should be doing based on their analytical study, I want to start by sharing a few real life examples that I’ve been blessed to see firsthand!

While a large portion of the material that Cindy and I develop is geared to serve front-line supervisors and managers who, as a general rule, grew into their positions primary because of they mastered the technical aspects of their given fields and rarely have access to the power skills (interpersonal skills) that help to balance those technical skills, we also do a significant amount of work with business owners, CEOs, and other high level executives that oversee the organizations those front-line supervisors and managers work in. One of the ways we do this is through our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank group, where we meet with a dozen or so business owners and executives for a half day each quarter with a very strategic focus on strengthening their organizations’ leadership cultures. Through those sessions, and through the individual interaction we have with those leaders outside of those sessions, we’ve been able to see some outstanding examples of not only charting the course for their entire company, but also how they provide a visible example for each of the leaders on their teams to follow!

I’ve worked closely with one of the ELETT group members for several years. And while the total number of team members is nearly four times higher than it was just five years ago, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I’ve never seen the owner waiver in how he casts the vision for the organization or in his approach to serving every employee in the organization. That said, his message hasn’t always been carried the same way by all the folks who have surrounded him in leadership roles…

Regardless of the specific topic we work through in our quarterly executive group sessions, we tie each one back to the importance of ensuring that it does not stop with the individual in that group; they need to be very intentional about making sure that message cascades to each level of leadership within their teams! Over the last several months, I’ve see the business owner I mentioned above build multiple additional steps into his approach with the key leaders on his to so that the message each of them are sending to their respective teams falls right in line with his vision for the organization - rather than each department drifting wherever their sails carry them…

When all the leaders in any given organization begin to use the same map, and final destination, to plot even their short term department level courses, providing the strategic leadership examples each team member can buy-in and commit to becomes so much simpler! With that example as our starting point, let’s look at some of the things our team members can actually see in our behavior as we begin to live out those examples…

Be The Example!

Once we’ve been intentional about charting a course for where we want our organizations to go (and to grow) in the years to come, providing a strategic leadership example is an absolute must if we want to earn the kind of buy-in and engagement from our team that ever gives us a shot at reaching our goals. This is where every step we take matters to the overall example we provide for our entire team!

 It hasn’t been all that long ago that I hammered the importance of maintaining high standards in everything we do as leaders, whether we think anyone’s watching or not! A leader who wants to earn influence rather than rely on positional authority alone cannot compromise their character or integrity in any way. To that end, I even put together an entire lesson in our Leading At The Next Level program a while back based on what one of my mentors taught from his years at the United States Military Academy (West Point): The Harder Right Over the Easier Wrong. But as much as that matters, there’s something else that is nearly as important for us to do if we want to provide a solid strategic leadership example…

Just like the strong technical skills that frequently earn our team members promotions into roles with leadership responsibility aren’t all they’ll need to be successful once they’re in those new positions, the skills we’ve developed to get where we are today won’t likely be all we need moving forward either! If we expect our team members to invest the time and energy to develop themselves, we’d better be doing the same thing. Regardless of how much we’ve done to develop our own leadership ability to this point in our lives/careers, we can’t hardly expect the people around us to put extra effort into something they’re not seeing us do currently. And even if a few of the leaders on our teams do, can we really hope to keep leading them in the future - especially after they’ve outgrown us?

A while back in a post called Why is Leadership Development, I provided several statistics that I believe make a powerful case for being intentional about it in every organization. Even when we do this though, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each member of our team will need something a little different depending on where they are in their journey and what they’ve had exposure to. The key lies in continuing to develop ourselves so we can maintain an awareness of what can best serve each of our team members, and that also requires knowing them well enough to have that awareness!

As we set this example and we see certain leaders on our teams begin to step up their own leadership development, the door begins to open for us to work on yet another strategic leadership example that will keep our organization on the course we’ve charted.

Be Prepared!

Once we’ve done the work to chart the course for our team to follow in the years to come so our entire organization achieves what we know it’s capable of and we’ve created an atmosphere that values - and even expects - ongoing leadership development at every level of supervision and management, we still have to face a stark reality… Not one single person on our team today, ourselves included, will be in the same role indefinitely! Things happen, some folks leave the team, others get promoted, health issues come into play, but the show must go on if there’s any hope of staying the course. And let’s be honest here, every individual on our teams is counting on us to keep the ship headed in the right direction through it all!

As a Boy Scout more than 30 years ago, the motto “Be Prepared” was instilled in me from the beginning. That same thought process would serve nearly everyone I can imagine today, especially someone carrying the weight of leading their entire organization! One of the most effective ways I’ve seen leaders Be Prepared has been through building on the strategic leadership example they set with ongoing leadership development and being very intentional about succession planning; ensuring they have bench strength for every critical role…

I remember hearing John Maxwell once say that he has the expectation for every member of his team to be actively training their replacement, even before their own next step in the organization has been identified. If someone on his team isn’t intentional about training their replacement, their spot on the team may be short lived. John doesn’t take this approach with his team members to push them out, he does it to help them become even more successful and to help the organization grow in the process.

When we’ve set the example by always working to develop our own leadership skills, and we see our team members follow our lead, the process for identifying our own successor or the next in line for any given position can be relatively clear. While that’s never without it’s own set of challenges, it certainly creates a layer of depth within our team that helps to insulate us against many of the issues that turnover creates. And having that kind of depth also helps drive overall engagement and performance at every level of the organization, even in roles that don’t hold formal leadership responsibility.

What happens when there’s a gap that we just can’t fill internally, due to timing or a need for a very specific technical skill set we just don’t have?

I’ve always believed that promoting team members from within is one of the best ways a leader can show how much they value their current team and earn engagement from the team as a whole. But there will inevitably be times where this just isn’t an option. In those cases, it’s critical to focus just as much on finding someone who fits the culture as it is on finding someone with the skills we need. And the most effective way I’ve seen at achieving this is to constantly build relationships outside the organization as well.

Even when we need to name a successor for a specific role from outside our existing team though, we still have an opportunity to drive growth within the team. In cases like that, we need to look for the folks who can be groomed to fill that role the next time it becomes available - whether that’s six months or six years later. Being very open with those folks about their future opportunities not only keeps the succession plan moving forward, it helps to build support around the new leader who will likely need to rely on them as he/she gets up to speed in the organization.

Truth be told, these few strategic leadership examples we’ve worked through so far are really just the tip of the iceberg. And I’ve been very intentional to not even touch on technical skills; not only will those be different in nearly every industry, most organizations are pretty effective at developing those internally. But I’ve never seen an organization with too much good leadership! Moving forward, we’ll work through some things that have to happen if we hope to provide deliberate leadership for our teams to follow the course we’ve charted…