Who is a strategic leader? You will know when you see one in action. Strategic leaders are not born different, but they have certain habits and practices that led to their success. Whether it is the CEO of an IT firm or the owner of a geographically expanding mom-and-pop shop, all strategic leaders have the following five habits that help them stay ahead of their game:

1. Innovative

What do Steve Jobs, Pierre Omidyar, Larry Page and Sergey Brin all have in common? They are all innovators. Innovative thinking and creative thinking go hand in hand. It can help you see what opportunities exist now or anticipate ones that will arise in the future. Successful innovators go beyond merely fulfilling the current needs of their customers to predicting future trends. They look for solution and improvements to current products or services to lead their organization into the future.

2. Proactive

As Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezoz, put it, ”We can’t realize our potential as people or as companies unless we plan for the long term”. The most effective strategic leaders are proactive and adaptable. They can look beyond short-term profits and rewards and concentrate on long-term business goals. They are the true agents of change who believe in their strategies and know that these take time to come to fruition. They are the leaders of strategic planning process within their organization and are adept to plan, prioritize and implement actions accordingly.

3. Strategic Listener

Strategic leaders are intuitive listeners. They gain their knowledge and wisdom through listening between the lines and understanding what is not said, witnessed, or heard. They are also great communicators. Communication is a two-way street, and great leaders seek out different ways to listen. They listen to their customers, competitors, peers, subordinates, and to those that care about them. They ask questions, elicit feedback and they listen before they act. In this technologically advanced age of social media, strategic leaders are armed with tools to help them stay connected with lots of opportunity to listen and gain feedback.

4. Discipline

As Jim Collins’ wrote in his book Good to Great, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” So would it surprise you that the first thing Steve Jobs did upon returning to Apple in 1997 was to increase discipline? Strategic leaders tend to be disciplined themselves and they in turn create a culture of discipline within their organization that focuses on long-term priorities and actions to lead their organization into greatness.

5. Align

Strategic leaders work hard to build trust with employees and stakeholders, and are skilled at navigating, negotiating and aligning differing views with the knowledge that consensus is rare. They know what drives peoples’ agendas and are not afraid to confront the tough issues, asking probing questions and facilitating conversations where appropriate. They align their organization around a clear strategy and through execution, communication and monitoring of those strategies, they are able to achieve organizational success. 

Strategic leadership requires us to think, act and influence others in ways that promote the lasting success of the organization. The job of strategy should not be limited to a few top executives in an organization. Strategic leaders are required throughout an organization if they are to adapt, innovate and succeed well into the future. In our next blog we will take this idea one step further by discussing some ways to develop a strategic-thinking organization.

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