As I’ve consulted with different organisations – from small enterprises to some of the largest corporations on the planet – I’ve learned that a high degree of mystery and confusion surrounds the term “strategy”. However, strategy is, at its heart, a simple concept. It is about setting a direction for sustainably better performance.

If you’re a leader of your organisation, you are in a unique position to guide the development and delivery of your strategy and maximise the impact that your business has on your customers, your people and the wider world.

That is why all organisational leaders should aspire to be strategic leaders. In my experience, the most effective ‘strategic leaders’ display the following behaviours and characteristics:


  1. They continuously raise the bar. Today’s successes are not enough for strategic leaders, who are forever looking for ways to reach the next level.
  2. They create a strong team around them. They welcome strong, well-rounded executives and managers as part of their team, and don’t need to ‘do it all’ themselves.
  3. They look beyond the next 12 months. One of my CEO clients has an 80/15/5 rule. He aims to focus 80% of his time on delivering the current year’s results, 15% of his time on developing new profit streams for delivery over the next 1-2 years, and 5% of his time on building platforms for growth beyond the next 2-3 years.
  4. They start with an external perspective. Strategic leaders start with their customers, identify and anticipate their needs, and seek to understand how they can create a more meaningful and stronger business relationship with them.
  5. They question everything.Strategic leaders don’t follow the herd; they set their own direction. This means that they take nothing for granted and objectively challenge prevailing wisdoms.
  6. They combine analytical rigour with creativity and serendipity. They deal with facts, rather than hope, but are also open to new ideas, possibilities and concepts.
  7. They exploit and build their company’s strengths and advantages.Although they may start with an external view, strategic leaders are clear about what drives their company’s performance and the assets and capabilities that underpin its success.
  8. They are willing to make clear choices and trade-offs. They know that they can’t necessarily have it all and must choose how they wish to compete. They are as clear about what the business doesn’t and shouldn’t do, as what it should focus on.
  9. They are willing to take a ‘sharp right’.Over time markets change so much that it’s not enough to be better at what you do, but to do something differently. Intel’s shift from memory chips to microprocessors, Whitbread’s disposal of its brewing business in favour of the development of its Costa Coffee and Premier Inn chains and IBM’s transformation from a hardware supplier to a consultancy-led business, are all examples of leadership teams that have been willing and able to take a ‘sharp right’.
  10. They drive alignment.Strategic leaders don’t tell; they develop bottom-up support and engagement through effective communication and meaningful involvement at all levels of the organisation.
  11. They are great story tellers. They love to talk about their business, share and explain its future vision, and use stories and anecdotes as a way of engaging their people and their stakeholders.
  12. They focus on a few big things. Even though they keep the bar raised high, they seek to ensure that the organisation doesn’t bite off more than it can chew.
  13. They are focused on results and always follow-through. Excellence in execution is critical to them, and they never forget what others have promised to deliver. Where there are real issues they look for cause rather than blame, but they will not allow weak and mediocre managers to drag down the performance of their stronger colleagues.


Which of these 13 behaviours do you consistently demonstrate? And which do you need to develop if you are to become a highly strategic leader?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.