Be a disruptive leader | Step One: Build your strategic ability

Last week we talked about the necessity of being a Disruptive Leader in order to be the leader the future needs, someone who can navigate, lead and collaborate through the choppy waters of constant change.

This week, let’s look at the first of the five agile steps we outlined on HOW to be such a leader – Build your strategic ability.

Are you strategic? Are you strategic enough?

Many leaders we meet, unless quite senior, are focused on the tactical, day-to-day realities of work. That’s OK, but there needs to be a balance, for everyone, regardless of our role – everyone needs to weave in strategy in what they do. And in order to be a positive disruptor, it’s absolutely crucial to focus on and develop strategic ability.

So, what is strategy then?

This is what says:

“A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”

This is what leading strategist Michael Porter, Professor, Institute of Strategy & Competitiveness, Harvard Business School says:

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different”

And strategic ability is to be able create and carry out a successful strategy. In a fast-changing world, that strategy may also be emerging rather that fully set from the start – and it may well need to change and be updated along the way – an agile approach.

That strategic ability can be broken down into a number of skills, which can be developed.

We have found these five strategic thinking skills to be crucial in building strategic ability. We also include some recommendations on how to develop them.

Systems thinking

Be curious about the world around you, to understand the system you’re in – observe, listen and explore it. When it comes to systems thinking, there are usually two main systems to consider, the internal system of the organisation and the external system, which is everything outside the organisation that touches it in some way; market, competitors, social, political and financial environment etc. The more you know about your systems, the more likely you are to spot or create relevant opportunities, as well as understand the impact the organisation has and can have.

Purpose and vision focus

Begin with the end in mind. Be relentlessly purpose-driven, become super-focused on the organizational vision and reason for being. This kind of passion can have a big impact on others, igniting their passion for the vision and purpose too. Show the way, give enough direction while still allowing people as much autonomy as possible. And, very importantly, show that everything is done for a reason – keep explaining and linking actions; why they are being done and what they will lead to. Doing something for a reason is engaging, it’s an opportunity to everyone to know that they truly make a difference.

Long-term thinking

Plan for the future, set long-term goals (alongside your short-term goal). Focus on the relationships that are crucial for long-term success.  This could be clients, suppliers, potential clients and colleagues – just to mention a few.  By being respectful and collaborative now you can create a respectful and collaborative relationship over time, which is not just the right thing to do, but it will also make it easier to get them to want to work with you in the future. And with great relationships also come recommendations; clients and stakeholders that seek you out because they have seen your consistent approach over time.

Taking responsibility for the whole

Remind yourself of the big picture, take a step back to see beyond your own responsibility today. Recognise that success requires shared responsibility. Look for linkages and interactions between tasks and people; eg. who is dependent on who, where are the handoffs etc. Think through the effects of decisions and actions, extrapolating into the future. Keep in mind though that this is hard to do alone, so find others you can work with to figure this out. Assess the impact of strategies, plans, actions and behaviours, to help you not just act in a potentially blinkered, here-and-now way.

Asking strategic questions

Provide strategic focus to dialogues. Influence others to take a strategic view and build their strategic ability. Here are some examples that you can use:

  1. What are we trying to achieve? Where do we want to be?
  2. For what purpose are we doing what we are doing?
  3. How will this differentiate us from others (competitors)?
  4. How will that benefit us? Could we reach that benefit some other way?
  5. Where are we now?
  6. How will we get there?
  7. What will be the impact of those actions, now and later?
  8. What are the dependencies?

Which of these skills do you already have? Which would you like to develop further? How will you do it? Who could you partner with in that learning? What other strategic skills important to you?

Please comment or ask questions below. We’re very happy to provide additional thoughts and ideas on your journey to greater strategic ability.

In our next blog post we will talk about the second agile step: “Leave your ego at the door.”

Thanks for reading!

About the authors

Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, award-winning authors of ”The Team Formula”.

Their latest book, multi-award-winning ”Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions”, published by Financial Times International is a practical tool for building winning teams. You can download a free chapter of the book at

Praise for ”Leading Teams: ”Leadership is about effective conversations. This book is a very useful ready reckoner for leaders everywhere seeking the words and methods needed each day at work. Sanjay Gupta, CEO English Helper Inc,

Author: Mandy and Elisabet

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