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Essential Skills for Strategic Leadership

As unfortunate and detrimental to company culture as it may be, great leadership from upper management isn’t always a guarantee. Some skills can certainly be taught in business school and mastered over time, while other admirable qualities in leaders come more naturally. True and effective leadership requires special skills for success and no matter where or how those skills are acquired, they are absolutely necessary. Here are the essential skills for strong, strategic leadership in the workplace. 

Anticipate the unexpected. One of the top common characteristics of proven leaders in business is the ability to foresee potential threats to discover hidden opportunities for growth. In order to better anticipate the unexpected, great leaders consider all possible scenarios, gather information from a diverse set of sources, imagine a wide range of possible outcomes, and act accordingly. To help improve your anticipation skills, try talking to your customers and suppliers to find out what challenges they face and how you might be able to help offer solutions, conduct business simulations in an attempt to predict disruptions to your workstream, and complete case studies to learn from fast-growing competitors.

Question the status quo. Great leaders are also known to challenge their own assumptions and the assumptions of others in order to facilitate innovation. Often times, this will require having the patience to welcome differing views and forcing yourself and your team into uncomfortable positions confronting opposing perspectives. To help you veer from what’s already familiar, hold “safe zone” meetings to encourage respectful dialogue and disagreement among team members and play devil’s advocate to discover hidden ideas or solutions. Encourage “thinking outside of the box” during brainstorming sessions and creatively explore where some of these unique ideas might lead.

Find common ground. Another key to successful leadership is the ability to align people to the same cause. In order to convince others to buy into the greater good of the business, you must be able to first get others to engage with and trust in you. One of the best ways you can achieve both is to communicate openly and directly with anyone who may have reservations. Try to understand their concerns and address them head on as early as possible. Be sure to seek out opposing viewpoints and ask for input. Find ways to compromise as a team in order to bring the best of both worlds together.  

Interpret and expose implications. Certainly no major business decision is made without supporting data, research, and opinions from a number of people. It is the true leaders who will have the insight to take complex information and sort through conflicting details and opinions to discover new patterns. To improve your interpretation skills, come up with at least three possible explanations for any new observation and explore what each outcome can lead to. This can often result in long and winding branches from the original intent, but it is also often out on the limb where great business success stories begin. 

Promote learning. Another essential skill in all great leaders is the focus on organisational learning. For effective leaders, failures and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and constructive criticism is encouraged. Leaders are much more effective and looked upon more positively if it is believed that they are invested in the individuals and not just the company. To foster a culture of learning, encourage further education with whatever means possible. Make time for mentoring so that colleagues can learn from and help education their peers. Implement in-house lunch and learn sessions, develop a budget for conference and workshops, and offer other learning opportunities whenever the chance arises.