Most people will agree that good leadership fuels performance. But what is good leadership? Some believe leading with a carrot brings out the best in people, whilst others believe people need strict boundaries to perform at their best.
The truth is that good leadership looks different in different contexts. It’s subjective; varying from company to company, team to team, project to project.
This is where leadership models come in; they can help assess a leader against the context of their environment. A good leader in one business might not necessarily be as successful in another.
At NSCG, our leadership framework looks at six key competencies: Leads others, understands self, delivers results, leads inclusively, thinks strategically and collaborates with impact. It’s been created, tried and tested by our experts who have decades of experience helping organisations accelerate performance. Grounded in globally recognised frameworks, our model evolves traditional theory to bring in line with the context of leading in the present day..
This series lifts the lid on these competencies, sharing insights from some of our experts. Here Jody Goldsworthy shares just what it takes to become a strategic thinker…
Being able to think strategically is the expectation for all senior leaders. Strategic thinking focuses on identifying unique opportunities to create value for an organisation by understanding what drives our business forward, what is coming down the road on the horizon and by being willing to find new ways of doing things. It might also involve scenario planning, exploring future possibilities based on forecasting changes to the operating environment.
there are many metaphors used to explain the fact that senior leaders need to be versatile – able to think about ‘big picture strategy’ alongside having a firm grip of operational performance. The Covid 19 pandemic required leaders to flex their strategic muscles unlike any time before. We witnessed businesses suffering from an operational emergency and leaders needing to step into more operational modes to help protect the company.
Businesses that recovered most quickly were those that spotted the return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality and invested time focusing on a new strategy to achieve commercial growth and recovery – a plan to operate in and thrive within a ‘new normal’.
So if strategic thinking is the ability to be able to see the big picture, plan for alternative scenarios ahead and anticipate and prepare for various outcomes and eventualities, how can it be spotted and developed in leaders? We’ve broken the competency down into three core traits which are; future innovator, conceptual thinker and holistic thinker. We take a look at the three below.
This is a trait that is likened to being entrepreneurial or possessing a strong sense of business acumen. This entrepreneurial spirit revolves around recognising opportunities to expand and improve an organisation. It’s characterised by a positive attitude towards risk, a willingness to take calculated chances and to navigate uncharted waters with confidence.
Leaders may not themselves be the ‘ideas person’ but they can actively foster a culture of innovation within their teams, where everyone feels encouraged to share their ideas and insights, regardless of their role – without judgement. You can read more about this in our Psychological Safety whitepaper . Having a diverse team is a core driver here people with different thinking styles and approaches fosters creativity and avoids group think. At its best, this innovative trait is coupled with clear decision-making that turns ideas into action to drive the organisation forward.
Leaders who excel as conceptual thinkers possess a crucial skill that forms the backbone of effective decision-making and strategy development. At its core, this skill revolves around a capacity to zoom out, taking a bird’s eye view of an organisation. From this metaphorically elevated perspective, leaders can discern how all the different components and functions of a business interconnect and influence one another.
Conceptual thinkers make the abstract concrete. They can see patterns not recognised by others and see common threads of similarities making links to situations or events they’ve faced in the past.
This competency is defined as the ability to horizon scan in a systematic way to take advantage or mitigate the impact of change. Practically, this involves gathering evidence of political, social, economic and technological changes and focussing on risk planning. As we witness mounting global financial issues and persistent geopolitical uncertainty that some describe as ‘permacrisis’, this capability becomes even more critical.