Five Questions Strategic Leaders Must Ask

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Strategic Leader

What is a strategic leader? Pose that question on Google and you'll see millions of responses. Can strategic leadership be learned? Harvard Business Review contributor Lisa Lai suggests a set of five questions can help develop more strategic leaders (Being a Strategic Leader Is About Asking the Right Questions).

 "...the reality is that strategy succeeds or fails based on how well leaders at every level of an organization integrate strategic thinking into day-to-day operations. This is less about complexity and more about practical focus."

In her article, Lai presents a set of five questions leaders can ask of themselves and their teams. By building on each other, these questions can drive clarity, alignment, and strategic insight to create a well-aligned, strategic perspective. Make these five questions part of your ongoing dialog to become more strategic and more successful as a team.

1. What are we doing today? Do you know what your team members are working on? Most of us have a lot on our plates. While we often focus on new initiatives and assignments, work on legacy projects is still going on. You can't move your team forward strategically without clarifying how much time is being invested in other tasks.

2. Why are you doing the work you’re doing? Why now? The next question involves evaluating the work according to its importance. First, determine what's important and why. You'll uncover areas of uncertainty and potential disagreement that can help clarify conversations about choices, resources and trade-offs. Second, use this knowledge to acknowledge the value and meaning of the work done by your team.

"Everyone wants to believe that the work they do matters. It’s your job to understand and articulate that with your own team and across the organization."

3. How does what we’re doing today align with the bigger picture? "Never underestimate the power of gaining total clarity about your own area of responsibility and then examining how well your work aligns with the broader goals of the organization." This question can expose unnecessary work, gaps and outliers. When the work done by your team doesn't align with the organization's goals then you have to challenge the value of doing that work. Whether or not you believe the work is important, be sure what you are doing benefits both your customers and your business.

4. What does success look like for our team? What measures do you use to evaluate your success? Do they adequately describe what success really looks like for your team? Can your team articulate an answer to this both individually and collectively? The best strategic thinkers invest time here ... in trying to understand what really drives success in terms of activities, behaviors, relationships, and strategic outcomes. The better you align your team around a strong vision of success, the more likely you are to achieve it.

5. What else could we do to achieve more, better, faster? Most leaders want to jump directly to this question to demonstrate their ability to “be strategic.” If you haven’t done the work to answer the preceding questions, it almost doesn’t matter what you come up with here, because you may or may not be able to act on it. But if you do the previous work you can strategically answer this one.

You may identify new and better ways to serve the broader goals of your company or decide to direct resources to other new possibilities. This question is the most important of the five; every great leader needs to challenge their team to do more, better, or faster over time. It is, however, inextricably linked to the previous questions if you want to generate the best strategic insights.

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