Can Strategic Leadership be taught? Or can it be learnt by leaders in a capsule form in this time stressed world?




The image above says it all. Do we as leaders sometimes feel we have “been there done that “and have seen it all? Does ego or titles or grey hair or a dose of cynicism sometimes come in the way of willingness to learn, unlearn or relearn?


Been there done that is a great feeling when one looks at the wealth of experiences and learnings and hard knocks and highs acquired during that journey.  But NOT been there, NOT done that YET is a great attitude to have too 🙂 Great Strategic Leaders are those who never ever rest on their laurels – they are hungry to experiment, learn, grow  and evolve with every opportunity that comes their way. And if it does not come their way, they look for it, or ask for it… and more often than not get it.


During a recent  series of Strategic Leadership workshops  I have conducted  for multiple groups  of  senior leaders of a couple of large corporates, one question that often comes from some of the participants is – Can Strategic leadership be taught or learnt in a day ? Very valid question. Luckily at the end of the day, at feedback time, the question does not come again most of the time 🙂


I typically ask each participant to pick up one role model  leader from their live experiences who came across as most Strategic  in his/her approach. And then asked them why they felt so and what were the qualities that made them different from the pack. Here were some of the sample qualities they mentioned seeing and observing. Strategic Leaders were great in the following areas


Value systems, ability to influence team and stake holders, articulate, out of box thinkers( as if there is no box),understood the pulse of the business and the people, clear thinking and communication, consistent and patient, risk takers, ability to see the big picture, great at conflict management , ability to ensure sustainable performance even beyond their tenure, inclusive, disruptive, command respect of team, respect and develop their team… and the list goes on !


Now none of these are theoretical attributes, but live ones from each one of them who came from diverse experiences, departments and multiple organisations over decades. We are talking of real people here. What this did was the make the participants realise that there is so much they still CAN DO and possibly HAVE TO DO by imbibing and practicing some of these qualities  just to stay current and relevant in this VUCA world.


And there came the second revelation. Many of the leaders had not heard or were not clear about what VUCA was and how they needed to be nimble and innovative to survive and grow in these times where change is a way of life for organisations and leaders. One of the videos shared on VUCA talked about how the leaders in this context need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.


I sure could relate to that given the number of unconventional  role and career changes I made along my 3 decade plus journey going into uncharted waters and roles. And I am not done yet  working  for the last 6 years as a Strategy consultant, Mentor, Coach, on strategic growth initiatives with new clients and leaders across industries, stages and mindsets and learning in the process 🙂 Each new assignment is a new start.


Then came the next resistance point while talking of the key differences between Strategic Thinking and Tactical thinking . Many of the leaders ( more so in top down driven  organisations ) feel that as operational leaders they are only meant to focus on the tactical, the short term, the fire fighting and implement someone else’s vision. And to make it worse, Strategic directions and priorities often change when there is change at the CEO or senior  levels. That is VUCA enough for them 🙂  Strategic discussions often happen once a year at Annual Operating Planning time and then  its all short term. Unless there is a crisis which calls for a rethink.


It is interesting how as we go along, the participants or core client teams realise that while organization Vision may not be in their domain of influence, choosing 3- 4 Strategic Goals or Projects that are directly within their domain or department certainly is.


So by shifting the focus from what THEY (senior leadership)  are not doing right to what WE( Operational leadership ) can do right is the first step. And then by defining the flow from Goals to Strategies to tactics to measures to rules of cross functional engagement to defining clear responsibilities these leaders can help align their teams to improve operational parameters that tie in with the big picture. This chart helps to show the wheels within wheels approach and how everything is interlinked.


Great Visions and Strategies do not always trickle down to the desired end outcome unless there is diligence at every step.



That brings us to the next and to me the most critical step in Strategic Leadership – imbibing some of those benchmark Leadership qualities that they spoke of for their role model leaders.


We use a High Performance Leadership Behaviours model © that helps leaders self assess where they are on various critical behaviours and competencies that include leadership behaviours and styles that help them step back and look ahead more strategically at their work and roles . And let the leaders working with them also flower and bloom as they trust, empower and develop them to the next level. That is so strategic but often a weak area for insecure leaders who want to be power centres.


And once past that stage, the approach is to work on a High Performance Business Model© that takes into account various structured approaches and tools for Strategic Thinking that then move to the Strategic Planning and Execution phases. With very clearly thought out  Strategic Brief or presentations on the Objective or Goal, and then the WHY, HOW, WHAT, WHEN, WHO along with the RISK EVALUATION, CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS, MEASURES OF PROGRESS clearly spelt out.


My motto – make it difficult for the boss to turn down a Strategic shift proposal since it is so well thought through and anticipates likely questions, doubts, what ifs, reworks. That is influencing with conviction – another great trait of a strategic leader.


This approach, or combination of approaches,  we believe has the power to help leaders think clearly, communicate clearer to the teams, articulate their approval or support requirements from leadership more forcefully and be more in control of the outcomes and successes. As Mentors and Coaches this approach is ingrained in us. And we use all our power of influencing to help our clients or coachees to start trying it, experiencing it, capturing the benefits to self, team and organization. And results are usually amazing, with some exceptions. That’s part of the game – you cannot win it all – 80 % + success ratio is good to go 🙂


To sum it up we believe that every  leader at whichever level in whichever organization can benefit and learn the basic steps to High Performance Strategic  Leadership that can make them stand out from the crowd in this fiercely competitive talent landscape that seeks to hire or retain the best talent. And its fundamentals and application goes beyond the business world, into sports, career management, personal goals achievement …


As I said earlier having a NOT been there, NOT  done that YET attitude, can work wonders to leaders wanting to rise to a new level.


Be comfortable being uncomfortable … and do something about it ! And make the journey fun. And yes if you stumble just make it part of the dance 🙂


Happy to share more individually around this approach with those leaders be it in large Corporates, mid sized family businesses, early stage funded start ups or entrepreneurs who are keen to learn, evolve, grow and take the next leap. Our mission is to positively impact atleast 500 leaders this year through these efforts to think – feel – act differently and lift their teams along in the process.


If you like this article, or believe others can benefit from it, do feel free to comment or share.