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In changing times, an organisation's leadership strategy also needs to change. Through this lesson, you will learn about the definition of leadership strategy, its importance, the essential skills and qualities of a strategic leader, specific leadership strategies needed to adapt to changes, and how some companies specifically adjusted their leadership strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Introduction to Leadership Strategy
Leadership strategy is the guide that an organisation uses in achieving its goal; it is the blueprint or a designed plan that indicates how the organisation will meet its goals.
A clear leadership strategy sets the tone and culture of the entire organisation. It guides everyone on what action to take and why.
In essence, strategic leadership is about the ability to take actions that guide an organisation towards set objectives.
Purpose of Strategic Leadership It includes changing or creating an organisational structure. It is primarily aimed at creating transformation, which is either to help a company survive in the middle of a crisis or help a company reinvent itself due to a positive need. It aims to improve productivity in the organisation. To achieve this, strategic leaders empower subordinates, make decisions, and implement changes that not only consider the present, but also the future.
Qualities, Skills, and Practices of a Strategic Leader
A strategic leader is one who has the potential to express their organisational vision and has the capability to persuade members to share the vision with them.
They are influenced by a broad perspective, and they encourage and assist members to realise their potentials for both their and their organisation's growth.
Here are some examples of strategic leaders:
Hillary Clinton: She initiated the transformation of the healthcare system in the US. She studied the healthcare system in the country, set up systems to get the citizens involved with the process, and worked together with both American political parties to implement changes.
Howard Hughes: He transformed the world of aviation by creating the fastest aircraft in the world through the introduction of better aerodynamics. He also produced movies, such as The Outlaw, which was initially banned but eventually became popular.
**Steven Spielberg **: He is an award-winning director who is known for tackling big social issues and for introducing new approaches in creating a movie (e.g. showing the shark at the final stages of the film "Jaws").
Which of the following is/are correct about a strategic leader?
It is believed that the bigger the uncertainty, the bigger the opportunity. However, this works mostly for those organisations who have the leadership skills to turn things around. Based on a study conducted by Schoemaker et al. (2013), there are six skills that when leaders master and use all together, they will be able to strategically think and act amidst the uncertainty. The strength in one of these skills, though, cannot make up for the weakness on the other/s.
Leadership Strategies Needed to Adapt to Change
Change has always been viewed with mixed emotions, but most of the time, it is viewed with apprehension and worry, especially if it is happening in the workplace.
Organisational transformation becomes frightening since it is often times associated with lay-off and movements that are not comfortable.
However, an organisation must continue to change or transform in order for it to grow.
Which of these is NOT a part of the five strategic imperatives when adapting to change?
The Ability to Read and Act on Signals: An organisation must always be attuned to the changes in its environment. It must catch changes and be quick to refine or reinvent its business to adapt to the changes.
Example: Tesco, a UK-based grocery retailer, constantly analysed the purchase patterns of its more than 13 million members. Using their findings, they customised their offerings for each store and each customer segment. They were able to quickly detect the shift in the behaviour of their customers and adjust accordingly.
The Ability to Experiment: A lot of companies are now using new approaches and technologies in doing their experiments. They use virtual environments to test and replicate ideas faster, cheaper, and less risky than their competitors.
Example: Through its Connect + Develop model, Procter & Gamble uses InnoCentive and other open-innovation networks to fix technical design issues. It also utilises a walk-in, 3-D virtual store to run experiments that are faster and less expensive than conventional market tests.
The Ability to Manage Complex Multi-company Systems: Nowadays, industry structure is viewed as an ecosystem of codependent companies than a group of competitors producing the same products or services. Thus, to adapt, companies are learning to create activities outside their companies and adjust strategies for networks without necessarily benefitting competitors.
Example: Apple has a system of suppliers, telecom partnerships, and several independent application developers to support iPhone; Google uses a wide array of hardware partners and application developers to support its Android operating system. Both Apple and Google utilise these number of entities, which allow them to exceed Nokia’s long experience and become new market leaders in the industry.
The Ability to Mobilise: This means creating an environment that encourages diversity, risk-taking, autonomy, knowledge flow, flexibility, and sharing. It also means decentralising the organisational structure and substituting the certainty that a rigid structure produces with simple, generative rules to allow for interaction, trade-offs, and boundaries within which people can make decisions.
Example: Netflix model is to “increase employee freedom . . . to continue to attract and nourish innovative people . . . [for] long-term continued success.” Their only two types of rules are aimed at preventing irrevocable disaster and moral, ethical, and legal issues. They don’t track people’s hours since they focus on whether things get done.
Adjusting Leadership Strategies During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Every leader must have faced challenges and crises in their organisations. They most probably range from brief to sustained issues.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that caught most leaders off guard. It can be considered the greatest disruption in the workplace since World War II.
As a result, leaders are forced to make changes and adjustments in the way they do things. They need to make hard decisions with potentially serious consequences. They are responsible to not only keep the team safe, but also to make it cohesive and productive. They are expected to remain strong and effective not only for the organisation but also for themselves and their families. It goes without saying that adjusting their leadership strategies for a specific time as this is crucial for their organisation to remain on top or survive.
Here are some of the human needs during the shelter-in-place phase and how leaders have been trying to meet them:
Workers’ physical safety. Organisations have implemented work from home measures, continued to sanitise work areas for essential workers, implemented social distancing, etc.
Work security. Companies have been trying to keep their people even if it means furloughing some of them and paying more for front-line workers.
Mental health. To support the mental health of their workers, organisations have been conducting more frequent video calls rather than sending emails and are providing mental health support activities, such as yoga and meditation sessions.
Empathy. More leaders are now combining science-based approach with a more human touch to show empathy to their people. For instance, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's Prime Minister, has been using Facebook to keep her people informed about the situation and soothe their concerns.
Here are some strategic actions that leaders can take as they face the pandemic.
**Allow lower-level managers to make decisions provided that they are guided by the organisation's list of priorities (e.g. safety, ethical behaviours, etc.). ** The list can be centralised, but the decisions and actions can be localised so that response will be quick and effective.
** Use a non-binary approach when solving problems.** For example, instead of deciding whether to fire people or keep them, consider turning 20% of the workforce into part-time workers and providing an early retirement option for some.
Create a communication (or understanding) plan that aims to have clear, transparent, and empathetic communication with employees. Also, consider applying the 10x10x10 rule where one says something 10 times in 10 different ways for people to retain 10% of what was said.
Share inspiring stories of teams helping each other to overcome the challenges brought by COVID-19. As people respond to details, include details that will make your story interesting or relatable (e.g. children and pets that insist of joining conference calls, IT team members who stay up until dawn and drank tons of coffee just to set up the VPN system for the entire organisation).
Very informative training.
Very good for ambitious leaders.