4 steps to becoming a more strategic leader

Unlike the numerous operational duties leaders perform on a daily basis, strategic actions involve a different mindset and behaviors, new relationships and organizational skills. According to Hermina Ibarra's recent article in the Wall Street Journal, executives who want to become more strategic leaders can effectively develop a strong strategic awareness and skills through certain practices.

Ms. Ibarra, the Cora chair professor of leadership and learning at Insead and author of "Act Like a Leader," outlines four steps executives can take to become more strategic.

1. Use outside relationships inside your organization. While all leaders have an internal network that supports their daily operations, executives also need to leverage a solid and well-placed network of contacts outside of their organization, according to Ms. Ibarra. These external contacts can offer insight into the larger context in which the organization functions to help its leader make informed, strategic decisions internally. These external connections may even lead new business opportunities or partnerships.

2. Find a balance between what is important and what is optional. According to Ms. Ibarra, most new CEOs have a hard time balancing various internal demands, such as daily tasks and speaking requests, with external demands, including professional interests or commitments outside the organization.

Determining a balance between the time spent on building key strategic relationships, for example, and optional commitments that are not necessarily related to the company's goals or interests is essential.

"Keeping a foot in your professional world enhances your ability to add value to the top team when it comes to key strategic decisions," Ms. Ibarra wrote. "But, at the same time, too much external focus can make it difficult to maintain your professional edge and get buy-in for your ideas internally."

3. Analyze what "strategic" initiatives are actually strategic. Often, various items on executives' agendas are strategic only in name and really do not require as much attention as others might suggest. According to Ms. Ibarra, ranking each strategic initiative they are asked to support in order of importance — or another measure — will allow executives to budget the amount of time spent and manpower involved working on each.

4. Work as a team. Strategic thinking is enhanced when members of the C-suite have established good working relationships and members collaborate with one another, according to Ms. Ibarra. Even though each chief has his or her own domain, they are actually interdependent and should aim to work as a coherent unit.

Additionally, asking for another C-suiter's insight can prevent functional fixedness and improve strategic thinking, just as consulting someone outside of the organization can.

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