Why Leadership Strategy Matters

by Susan Franzen, M.Sc.

The wrong leadership strategy and style can spell doom for even the best business strategy. Don’t believe me? Here are just two examples:

Consider one of the nation’s leading architects of healthcare reform who was hired to continue a strategy of integrated, standardized care. The business strategy was in place. Organizational culture was primed to support the effort. Yet this leader struggled to adjust to the leadership needs, and the initiative faltered as a result. The leader was asked to leave within their first year.

Or, the leader who was hired to spearhead a resurgence for a national retailer. The board of directors wanted a new business strategy and organizational culture, but they failed to recognize how easily culture absorbs and neutralizes change. The initiative was ground to a halt because of the lack of the right leadership strategy and style, dooming their efforts for a new business strategy.

Instead, plan your business strategy with the support of the right leadership strategy.

Business strategy clearly defines how an organization will compete in the marketplace and involves positioning and repositioning of current products and services, and innovation to create new products and services for the market to consume. Business strategies may be external, like expanding global reach or deeper customer relationships, or internal, like improving operational agility.

To succeed, a business strategy must be carefully crafted to anticipate and guide organic shifts in the way people think and behave within the organization and the way work is completed.  A business strategy must either capitalize on the existing organizational culture or work to intentionally break the bonds of what exists to make way for a new culture that’s better aligned with the new business strategy.

How to intentionally craft a culture to achieve business goals

Leadership strategy sits at the intersection of business strategy and organizational culture. At first glance it may appear that a leadership strategy is simply about leadership behaviors, but it is more sophisticated than that: it is about intentionally crafting a culture that moves an organization towards its business goals.

The elements of an effective leadership strategy are both qualitative and quantitative:

Qualitative Elements

  • A leadership strategy engages the collective efforts of formal and informal leaders to achieve organizational goals.
  • A leadership strategy identifies the skills and behaviors needed to implement the business strategy and necessary supporting culture.

Quantitative Elements

  • A leadership strategy identifies the number, level, and types of leaders required to implement the business strategy.
  • It identifies where those leaders might come from, what levels of education or experience are required, and how those leaders reflect the diversity of the staff and customers or markets the organization serves.

Leadership strategy in action: Clear processes

A leadership strategy also includes processes for hiring, developing, and promoting leaders within the organization.  It is future-focused, recognizing that different types of leadership are required for different phases of an organization’s life cycle.

For example, key leadership skills needed for creating business strategy include innovation, team building, communications, vision, priority setting, conflict resolution, effective coordination and delegation.  Key leadership skills for implementing strategy include several of those plus the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, agility in coordinating and reallocating resources across functions based on priority strategic initiatives, ensuring understanding of communications, and empowering mid-level leaders to drive execution.  A leader who excels at creating business strategy may not possess the right skills to implement that strategy, so an effective leadership strategy addresses gaps like these and integrates the right leaders at the right time to the right place.

The two organizations mentioned at the start of this article would have benefited from a clearly defined leadership strategy, linked to business strategy and mindful of both the existing organizational culture and the culture needed to create the future. We can see how the assumptions they made about leadership needs were incomplete and, ultimately, fatally flawed.

When defining a business strategy, consider how a clearly defined leadership strategy can help you avoid similar mistakes.

About the Author

Susan Franzen is Vice President, Leadership and Strategy at AXIOM Learning Solutions and the founder and principal of PatternShifts LLC. If you’d like to speak with us about creating a clearly defined, effective leadership strategy for your organization, contact us today.

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