There comes a point in the careers of many people that either companies or one’s own self-assessment will determine whether they demonstrate the capacity and aptitude to move beyond managing and into strategic leadership roles. For some who cling too tightly to their technical job skills, it may be at the expense of gaining a strategic perspective. The point of realization that I’ve heard from clients who I work with on leadership development issues is that relying solely on what has gotten them this far in their career will not suffice for what they’ll need from this point forward. Marshall Goldsmith’s classic “What Got You Here Won’t Get you There” does a great job of illustrating this same point.
The premise I bring to their perspective is gaining knowledge of what are they willing to let go of and what will they welcome in its place. These are the points of distinction that will help you gain an appreciation of the lines of demarcation between managers and strategic leaders.
- Prepare for change. As a manager focused on simply ensuring the efficiency, planning and organization of staff, a strategic leader understands the need to create a vision for change and then inspires the team to bring it to fruition. Identifying opportunities to pursue these role shifts are sometimes difficult to spot, but be on the look out for ways to claim and shape your vision.
- Development isn’t just about your skills. Adopting a strategic perspective means expanding your field of view to identify the stakeholders associated to your success by taking on a systems outlook. This couldn’t be done with linear thinking and task-based behavior. Big-picture thinking means learning how to create influence through coalitions and networks. As a way to do that, get on assignments that are associated to the achievement of the company’s strategic goals, as well as cross-functional projects that bring together diverse stakeholders from across the company.
- Watch out for identify traps. Don’t fall victim to a common trap by resorting to your default leadership style. You’ll need to end any tendency for micro-managing and learn how to delegate and cultivate your ability to influence without authority.
- Authenticity. Think about how you want to be perceived and manage your image accordingly. Networking can be a challenge for time starved managers, but growing your strategic network inside and outside the company is critical to building your skills into strategic leadership. Cultivating mentors is an important step to gain a consistent feedback loop that will shape your self-insight.
Don’t we all wish we could take a passive approach towards building our overall leadership skills, but I’m afraid it takes literally constant attention for skill and aptitude cultivation. I can uniformly state that it’s worth your time and effort.