4 ways to become a more strategic leader

Herminia Ibarra debunks the notion that a few uninterrupted hours of thinking each week would result in better strategic ideas.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, the professor of leadership and learning at Insead writes that leaders are far more likely to act their way into strategic thinking than think their way into strategic action. She recommends the following four practices:

  1. Bring the outside in. Just as executives rely on a network of internal people to accomplish daily duties, leaders are well advised to develop a network of contacts outside their organization who can help them understand the broader environment in which they operate, with the goal of identifying new opportunities and partnerships.
  2. Balance internal and external demands. Because c-suite executives must manage a diverse group of stakeholders—regulators, collaborators, customers and more—it is imperative to find the right balance between external demands and the activities directly related to core company interests. While important, spending too much time on professional activities can make it difficult to get buy-in for ideas internally.  “That’s why it’s critical to manage your calendar and periodically rebalance your portfolio of activities,” Ibarra writes.
  3. Control your strategic agenda. To discern which of the many strategic activities deserve one’s attention and which ones can be backed with less concern: Make a list of every strategic activity you are asked to back; rank each according to key criteria, such as stature of sponsor, time frame and quality of involved team; put more effort into initiatives that rank highly and less into those with lower rankings.
  4. Collaborate at the top. Invest time in building relationships with other members of the C-suite, something that does not happen in many organizations, where each team member runs his or her own region, function or product category.

“These aren’t exercises to periodically carve out time for, and they certainly aren’t activities to try once a year at a strategic retreat,” she writes.