A Strategic Leader

Writer: Mitta Xinindlu

One of the skills sought and expected by senior executives in our organisations is undoubtedly the ability to think, plan and act strategically. This competency identifies the opportunities that will bring value to the company; it also challenges the status quo and the premises on which the company bases itself to face current and future challenges.

Lack of this skill will lead people to:

  • Conform,
  • Apply solutions from the past to the challenges of the future, and
  • Not quickly spot threats as well as opportunities.

When strategic thinking and execution is lacking among all decision-makers in the company or a strategic thinking process is not in place, it is the organisation itself that, sooner or later, runs to its loss if not to major crises.

Yet a study of leadership conducted a few years ago by the American Association of Management among 2000 senior executives around the world revealed that only 4% of them were real strategists. This competence, although considered to be the most important, would be very little widespread at the higher and other levels.

Some attribute this to the fact that the training and development of executives throughout their careers is more technical, operational and financial, and/or sales oriented.

So how do you develop that skill? You combine 6 (Six) critical capabilities.


An article written by Shoemaker, Krupp and Howland in the Harvard Business Review of January 2013 gives some leads. Their research with 20 000 senior executives allowed them to break down the strategic thinking and execution skills into 6 (Six) capabilities. For them, the strategic leader knows how to apply these six capacities by combining the following personality traits:

  1. Anticipator: Detects ambiguous threats and opportunities at the periphery of the day-to-day business activities. To do this, several ways are used, including talking to clients, suppliers and partners; conducting market research; developing possible scenarios; and finding out about trends in other industries.
  2. Challenger: Recognises and questions the status quo, including his premises and those of his partners (colleagues or suppliers). For example, a good strategy for this role is displayed by Toyota with their ‘Toyota’s five moves’ strategy.
  3. Interpreter: Detects weak signals of a threat or opportunity in a complex, scattered or disparate set of patterns of behavioural links.
  4. Decider: After considering various options, the manager makes a final decision also following a disciplined rather than rapid decision-making process.
  5. Aligner: Engages others in the process in a variety of ways so that the various stakeholders are mobilised to implement the decisions.
  6. Learner: Strategic leaders are people who have a constant attitude of research and improvement. They seek to understand the reasons for their successes as well as the causes of failures to learn the lessons.