The Top 4 Characteristics to Look for in Strategic Leaders

Ensuring that management and other leadership positions are staffed with people who possess strategic leadership qualities can help teams produce better results more consistently. However, finding the right people to fill those leadership roles at all levels of your organization can prove challenging.

In fact, according to statistics cited by Forbes, “fewer than 10% of leaders exhibit strategic skills.”

To create strong, strategic leadership, it’s important to look for leadership candidates who possess certain characteristics:

1: The Ability to Align Short-Term Goals with Long-Term Objectives

All too often, leaders in an organization get mired in the day-to-day goals. They trade future gains and goals for immediate, short-term wins that, while important, don’t bring the organization closer to meeting its mission statement.

Leaders who can stay focused on the long-term goals and create short-term goals to act as stepping stones towards the organization’s true aims can help ensure long-term success.

Take, for example, Elon Musk and Tesla. In an interview with Business Insider, Musk stated that “the initial product of Tesla Motors is a high performance electric sports car… However, some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars.”

Musk’s leadership saw Tesla through many challenges over the years. He helped establish a new battery manufacturing plant to address a shortage of high-capacity batteries and oversaw the development of several different high-end sports cars to help the company make a strong impression with their limited-availability vehicles before bringing the Model 3 to the masses.

Each measure that Musk took was designed to not only help meet immediate needs, but to bring the company closer to the point of releasing the “affordably priced family cars” that were the long-term goal of the company.

2: The Desire to Coach Other Employees

A strategic leader has to do more than simply act as an effective executor of goals—they have to be able to motivate others and help them develop the skills the organization as a whole requires for long-term success.

Leaders who are effective coaches provide numerous benefits to organizations. For example, as highlighted in a Forbes article by leadership development guru Joseph Folkman, in a “study with 1,884 leaders in a large energy organization… found a direct correlation between leaders’ coaching effectiveness and team productivity.” According to the study, “better coaches have three times as many people who are willing to go the extra mile.”

Other benefits of having strategic leaders who coach employees included improved employee engagement and retention.

Leaders who coach their employees help their teams be better prepared to deliver results for the organization both now and in the future—not to mention making talent development that much easier on the Human Resources department.

3: Listening to Others Regardless of Seniority

Larry Page, the co-founder of Google and current CEO of its parent company, Alphabet, took his and co-founder Sergey Brin’s idea of making a website to rank webpages based on more criteria than just the number of times each page had a specific keyword in it and turned it into one of the biggest companies on Earth.

One of the ways that he accomplished this was by being open to the input of others.

From the first day that Page became CEO of Google, he set forth a number of rules to live by as a leader. One of the most important ones highlighted in a Business Insider article about Page’s life story was: “Ideas are more important than age. Just because someone is junior doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and cooperation.”

Leaders who listen to the ideas of others are able to collect a wider variety of viewpoints on challenges faced by the organizations—which can lead to better solutions. It also helps employees feel more engaged with their work because leaders who listen make employees feel more valued.

4: A Strong Sense of Accountability

The old saying “monkey see; monkey do” is one that frequently appears in business circles when it comes to inspiring employees. Why? Because, employees take their cues from their direct reports.

A leader has to not only hold employees accountable to their goals and for their actions, they have to demonstrate their own accountability as well.

Few business leaders have exemplified accountability as well as Toyota USA President Jim Lentz during the 2010 brake recall debacle. After having to issue a massive recall involving millions of vehicles because of faulty brakes, Jim Lentz went on record in a series of interviews hosted on the social media site Digg to directly answer questions from angry customers.

As noted in an Adweek.com article posted a few months after the incident, “With Digg, however, Lentz was asked the unedited top 10 questions voted by Diggers… Digg’s 40 million subscribers provided enough outreach but not in a canned situation where Toyota’s PR and marketing teams shaped the conversation.” Following the online “Dialogg,” March 2010 sales of Toyota vehicles actually increased from their March 2009 figures.

This direct, open approach to handling what should have been a PR nightmare not only helped the company rapidly rebuild its reputation—it served to demonstrate to employees the importance of accountability on a grand scale. Instead of shifting blame, the company’s leaders came forward, accepted responsibility, and sought to repair relations.

By demonstrating personal accountability, Toyota’s leadership was also able to inspire its employees to be more productive and watchful for errors that could lead to more issues like the faulty brakes debacle. This sense of accountability can help make employees more independent and productive.

For example, as noted by Inc.com:

“A culture of accountability fosters self-reliance and confidence. Employees don’t need to be micromanaged when accountability permeates an organization at every level. Rather than managers bestowing tasks for employees to belabor, an accountable employee sees responsibilities as challenges to meet and problems to solve.”

Responsible employees are more likely to take charge and do whatever they can to resolve an issue on their own without waiting for a leader to take notice. Toyota’s famed Toyota Production System is the ultimate expression of employee responsibility. Every worker is empowered to halt production if they notice a problem—and is expected to do so.

Finding leadership candidates for positions within the organization who have the ability to connect short-term goals to long-term objectives, coach their teams, listen to others, and exemplify accountability while also enforcing it is an enormous challenge for HR. However, there are tools that can help identify personnel who possess these qualities so they can be readied for a transition into leadership positions, keeping your leadership funnel full of quality candidates.

Get help with assessing the high-potential leaders in your organization today!

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Rick is President of OnPoint Consulting and has a twenty-five year track record of success as a human resource consultant and executive. The focus of Rick’s work has been on helping organizations close the gap between strategy and execution, work effectively in a matrix organization and lead and collaborate in a virtual environment.

Rick Lepsinger

Rick is President of OnPoint Consulting and has a twenty-five year track record of success as a human resource consultant and executive. The focus of Rick’s work has been on helping organizations close the gap between strategy and execution, work effectively in a matrix organization and lead and collaborate in a virtual environment.

rick-lepsinger has 49 posts and counting.See all posts by rick-lepsinger

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