What’s a Strategic Leader?

What makes an idea “strategic”?

I’ve heard that word used to mean many different things recently, ranging from “high level” to “one off” to “short term” to “long term” to “a senior responsibility.” It’s often understood in relation to its opposite: “not in the weeds.” One dictionary definition I saw is entirely unhelpful: “marked by strategy.”

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what it means for a person to be “strategic.” I admire strategic leaders. I’ve been unpacking what I understand that to mean, based on times I’ve seen them in action.

For now, I’ve landed on four key skills of strategic leaders. They are responsibilities that feel like gifts, both in the person and for the recipients:

Strategic leaders provide context. They encourage people see a bigger picture and look down the long road. They provide a frame.

Strategic leaders are skilled at curation. They help people cut through the noise, focusing attention selectively and intentionally on what matters.

Strategic leaders have a strong sense of calling. They remind their teams of their purpose and destination while holding the specifics of how to get there loosely enough to adjust as needed.

Strategic leaders maintain the core. They make sure their organization not only has a clear sense of what’s important, but has the resources – most notably people, skills and systems – to do what needs to be done.  

And what are strategic leaders not? They’re not distracted by, or creators of, clutter. They are not short-sighted (there’s no good c-word for that!). And they are not clairvoyant. Being strategic does not mean being able to predict the future with accuracy. It means being positioned to adapt to whatever that future holds.

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