A B2B services company and an educational institution are each completing strategic planning. Before turning to implementation, it is vital to identify who will direct major initiatives to move the organizations forward. When identifying strategic leadership for new initiatives, each organization surfaced the same issue: We do not have the strategic leadership depth below the top levels to drive the initiatives that we have planned.

Even though the organizations are dissimilar, their leadership challenges are comparable:

  • “We’re so busy, nobody has time to do anything other than their current work.”
  • “Because it’s been busy for so long, our people are narrowly-focused and lack the experience and expertise to lead cross-functional strategies.”
  • “We [the top executives] have to lead these because we don’t have strong people underneath us.”
  • “Can’t we assign all the top executives as a group to lead this initiative?”

4 Ways to Highlight Emerging Strategic Leadership

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When organizations face the challenge of weak strategic leadership beyond the senior ranks, what are the options for creating positive change AND developing additional leaders? Consider these strategies to address this issue:

1. Group Ownership Is NOT an Option

The B2B services company wanted its top executives to co-own major initiatives since they all needed to approve the initiatives. Since they perceive the talent below them as largely incapable, it seemed an obvious solution.

We reminded them about the repeated time challenges to get the small leadership group together to address planning prioritization and assignments. The need for them to coordinate schedules to advance even ONE strategic initiative is a near-guarantee that they will never implement the initiative successfully.

We pushed for them to look across their organizations for individuals in whom they had confidence, and who would be more available for coordinating implementation strategies. This approach yielded a few more potential next-level leaders. For others, the quick alternative was for one of the executives to own specific initiatives. While they talk and coordinate activities regularly, this compromise creates individual, rather than group, accountability for moving forward.

2. Ownership Doesn’t Mean Doing Everything

Many organizations seem to have the mistaken impression that leading or taking ownership for a strategic initiative means the individual leader is responsible for everything. That isn’t true. Nor must an initiative leader have a direct organizational line to everyone involved in implementing the plan. Owning an organizational initiative encompasses a combination role that involves:

  • A strategic perspective coupled with strengths in tactical implementation
  • An appreciation for project management practices
  • Networking and cheerleading skills to secure support and ongoing commitment
  • Solid decision making and team management skills

None of those qualifications necessarily involve integral knowledge of all or even most of the areas touched by the initiative. While that knowledge is a bonus, the initiative owner’s major role involves coordinating the people who – in aggregate – DO have the knowledge, skills, and responsibility to implement the varied parts of the initiative.

For the leaders at the educational institution, whose department includes a wide range of not-exactly-complementary functions, this role description opened possibilities for individuals lacking deep understanding of everything the department does, but who have the respect and wherewithal to coordinate a group of peers.

3. Free Up the People with Potential

Building on the understanding that initiative leadership need not strictly follow organizational lines opened another possibility: a junior team member can lead a cross-functional, strategic initiative for an organization. We related various examples including one where an analyst led a new product development effort that included his boss’ boss, and several of his boss’ peers, as team members. We bridged that example to begin suggesting smart, talented, and passionate individuals in their organization to consider for leadership roles.

4. Prioritize Implementation as a Learning Opportunity for EVERYONE

Beyond strong leadership, it takes a solid team to successfully implement an organizational initiative. That often suggests the need to select the leader and the team together. This means covering the necessary skills, experience, and expertise across the entire team, relying much less on any one or small group of individuals to carry the team. In tight staffing situations, this can minimize the amount of time any one person has to spend and makes the team composition easier to develop.

In this situation, the implementation process becomes a learning opportunity for everyone. Team members will broaden their skills sets and horizons. The initiative owner will grow her or his leadership skills. The executive team will have a better idea of who will emerge as the next generation of leaders.

It’s Not Easy, but It’s Vital to Highlight Emerging Strategic Leadership

For executives who are under the gun to implement daily activities, these ideas may not seem as though they will make life easier. Today’s priorities rarely disappear. If you have the need to implement strategic change, though, these strategies are all solid alternatives to grow the strategic leadership to take your organization forward.  - Adapted from Inside the Executive Suite via Armada Corporate Intelligence

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