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The Principles of Strategic Leadership


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Decribes the underlying principles, competencies and logic found in The Strategic Leader - John Pisapia’s award winning book [Washington Post Top 5 Business Books 9/7/2010]

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The Principles of Strategic Leadership

  1. 1. Principles of Strategic Leadership 2010 The Principles and Practice of Strategic Leadership John Pisapia, Professor Leadership Studies Florida Atlantic University USA Strategic leadership is about discovering the future AND making it happen!!! It does not mean you are simply a great strategist. What it means, to me, is that you are able to understand your context, get a team together, agree on a target and how you are going to get there, and then get there! Strategic Leadership (SL) is not a style, nor is it reserved for top echelon leaders. It is a way of thinking and way of working by managers and leaders throughout the organization. The central tenant of strategic leadership is that leaders must work in a strategic way; given the uncertainty and ambiguity presented by the context. Working in a strategic way means that leaders work to change the atmosphere by bringing a philosophy, a system, and a way of thinking and working that leads to sustained, not scattered success. At its core, working in a strategic way requires the ability to make and execute consequential decisions about ends, strategies, and tactics. It requires that managers and leaders are able to think strategically and execute change effectively with a profound appreciation for stability. The Philosophy Philosophically, strategic leaders (SLers) know that that their ability to find the future and make it happen is dependent on people embracing solutions and acting upon them; not technical tools. The quality of their leadership is found not in their actions, but in those of their followers.  SLers create a shared reality and then a shared direction. They know that in every organization there is a WE-THEY LINE - the line where people above it say WE DID IT and people below it say THEY DID IT. SLers move this line lower in the organization to get more people above the WE- THEY LINE where vision and aspirations are shared.  SLers take calculated risks; they are tenacious. They do not plan first. They create aspirations and actions; then they plan. They know that when opportunity comes - it's too late to prepare! SLers RUN TO DAYLIGHT - they stick to their principles and when opportunities come they pounce on them vigorously.  SLers cultivate the conditions that support change. They operate as gardeners rather than mechanics. A goal is to manage at the edge of chaos. They learn to keep their balance by maneuvering and adjusting - adjust - adjust; not adjust, adjust, adjust and then try to move forward.  SLers lead through generative processes and principles; not rules and procedures. They know that close scrutiny helps in the beginning, but constrains in the long term.  SLers believe that performance is the result of a combination of effective intent and excellent execution. They prudently use of non gameable metrics to push their organizations to action; you can't manage what you can’t measure. The System SLers work in a strategic way. They know that through self and organizational cultivation they can tilt the playing field in their direction and achieve sustained not random success. They honor the process by Page 1
  2. 2. Principles of Strategic Leadership 2010 running THE SL SYSTEM which is formed around finding the answers to these four strategic questions - What is going on here? What has to happen here - What is precious and what is expendable? How do we make it happen? How do we keep making it happen? A Case in Pointi Carlos Ghosn was born in Brazil, schooled in Lebanon by Jesuit priests, and graduated with a degree in Engineering from France’s prestigious Ecole Polytechnique works in a strategic way. In 1999, at the age of 46, he was sent to Japan to change the financial status of Nissan motors from $50 million in debt to profitability in three years. Ghosn made it happen by using a ‘listen first, then think, and then speak’ philosophy and a generative inclusive style to run the SL SYSTEM. What is going on here? Ghosn would say - establish with and within the company a very simple vision about the destination. He went to Nissan without any preconceived ideas -just a clean sheet of paper - and set about, with his top team, evaluating the company systematically to find the problems that were limiting performance. He personally interviewed over 300 employees at all levels and scoured financial and performance data. What Ghosn found was an unclear vision and vague goals. Ghosn fondly quotes a former teacher’s words: “If you find things complicated, that means you haven’t understood them. Simplicity is the basis of everything.” This affection led him to capture Nissan’s vision in a concrete and measurable number; 180. The number is short hand for Nissan’s aspiration; add one million vehicle sales, achieve an eight percent operating margin, carry zero debt over three years. Ghosn would say diagnosis; interact with many people to make sure you have the right priorities then share this diagnosis through a clear and concrete goal. What has to happen here - What is Precious - What is Expendable or Modifiable? Ghosn would say, the company for the most part determines its own faith. Develop a strategy, action plans, at every level of the company so everyone knows the contribution that is expected of them from the company. In Nissan’s case, the point was not to change culture just for the sake of change. He wanted to change the culture for the sake of performance. In every step he took, he was very careful not to institute changes that were not based strictly on the advantages they give Nissan to improve company performance. By showing that every change made was for the sake of performance and benefit to the company, gradually these changes were approved and accepted. How Can We Make It Happen? Ghosn is convinced that the biggest mistake leaders make is not connecting with people. Leaders must feel the situation, understand the expectation of people, and, respond to them in ways to improve overall performance. He believes people need to feel a strong personal and team commitment coming from the top. You have to listen deeply - not only to direct reports - into the organization. When you find something out of place act fast and empower as many people as possible to make decisions. Communicate not only what you are doing but the results also - then reward people. He believes that in the end results cement everything. They give you credibility - make people feel safe and want to sign on for the journey. How Do We Keep Making It Happen? Ghosn says that many times people make great speeches but frequently nothing happens. While words are important, they do not automatically translate into action. He believes that measurement pushes you into action. The only way you’re going to make sure actions are going to follow talk is by measurement. He believes in straight talk focused on results from his managers and employees. But he also believes in having an appreciation for simplicity in setting up monitoring indicators and surveys - not just to see how our customers rate the quality of sales processes, but also to understand what's going wrong. He believes that measuring objectively the way individuals and teams have contributed to the performance of the company is more useful for motivation than subjective views. Page 2
  3. 3. Principles of Strategic Leadership 2010 A Way of Working SLers develop four core competencies to run this system. They work generatively to apply THE SL SYSTEM tasks: (a) anticipating changes, challenges and opportunities in internal and external environments, (b) creating and articulating common values and direction in a generative/minimum specifications manner, (c) establishing and using social capital to mobilize actions, and (d) building the capacity of their organizations by anchoring the learning in engaged self managed followers/teams. They develop four core competencies to first cultivate themselves; then cultivate their organization/team. Self Cultivation - The Linchpin Competencies  Competency 1: Strategic leaders possess the skills - systems thinking - reflection - reframing - which enable them to think strategically. These skills make it possible to recognize patterns, make sense out of seemingly unrelated information. They switch from a strategic mindset -“Why and What” - to a tactical mindset -“How and When” - in a rapid and iterative processes when appropriate. The greater their capacity to use Strategic Thinking Skills; the greater is their ability to make consequential decisions about ends, strategies, and tactics.  Competency 2: SLers are able to create momentum by managing - transforming - bonding - bridging - bartering - actions. They BUILD A BIG TENT and fill it. They use generative processes because they know that change will be fast if people are engaged - slow – if not! SLers can see the invisible ties that link individuals together and to the organization. They understand that the commitment of opinion leaders is the most important determinant of whether programs succeed or fail! Organizational Cultivation – The Action Competencies  Competency 3: SLers are able to run The Strategic Thinking Protocol to create a shared reality and then a shared direction that results in actionable plans. When ends are not externally established, SLers establish them. When ends are know, they create the conditions that produce results by mobilizing people, establishing relationships, capturing resources, creating coherence and crafting a responsible adaptive learning culture. Their mantra is common ends and values, and adaptable ways and means.  Competency 4: SLers are able to run The Strategic Execution Protocol to create the conditions that produce results. SLers are performance AND institutional builders. They understand that you can't manage what you can't measure. When starting up new project agree on what the goals and the metrics that are appropriate. SLers lead by example; they don't manage with rulebook. They teach the organization’s point of view; empower, hire for cultural and performance fit, and tie rewards to performance. Assessment Tools: The following assessment tools are available to help leaders work in a strategic way by cultivating themselves and then their organizations. 1. The Strategic Thinking Questionnaire (STQ) 2. The Strategic Thinking Protocol (STP) 3. The Strategic Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ) 4. The Strategic Execution Protocol (SEP) Schematically cultivating yourself and then your organization looks like this: Page 3
  4. 4. Principles of Strategic Leadership 2010 Table 1. Theory Z Guides the Practice of Strategic Leadership Self Cultivation Organizational Cultivation Agility Strategic Thinking Protocol Strategic Mindset Create a Shared Reality New Science Principles Generative Processes Systems Thinking Strategic Questions Reflection Strategic Conversations Reframing Create a Shared Direction Artistry Strategic Execution Protocol Transforming Concrete Clear Target Managing Track Performance Bonding Teach Organization's Point of View Bridging Make Learning a Priority Bartering Empower Hire for Cultural and Performance Fit Tie Rewards to Performance, Growth & Contribution John Pisapia – 2010 Join one of our Global Learning Communities i From Pisapia, J. (2009). The Strategic Leader: New tactics for a globalizing world, (pp. 158-161). Charlotte, NC: IAP. Page 4