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This morning I woke up about 5:45 AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I eventually got up and sat down in my favorite upholstered rocking chair. From the strategic position of this beloved chair I can look out our bedroom windows and see directly east.
During much of the year the sunrise is obscured by the growth of deciduous trees that cover much of our property. However, during the late fall and winter this thicket of bare trees stand tall as a lonely testimony of the coming winter. As I peered out the window this morning deep in meditation I was struck by the beautiful glowing hues of orange and pink light as the morning rays of sun peeked over the horizon. Once again I was reminded that each day is a gift.
For thousands of years poets and bards have written about the power and opportunity that exist within each day. Some sage scribes have wisely observed how a single lifetime is aptly portrayed in a single day. The sunrise begins a new day of life as the world comes to celebrate its fresh start through the sounds of birds, stirring insects and waking of mammals. The day continues on as it peaks in mid-day at full strength and full of brilliance. As the day continues to grow old it slowly wanes into a mellow evening. Finally each day ends quietly at sunset with a certain stillness. There are some lessons we can learn about the power of each new day.
We just simply assume that there will be many tomorrows. We sometimes act as if we are entitled to a long life...as if it is owed to us. This is a false assumption because no one has been given the promise of another tomorrow in this world. In western society we don't even like to discuss death. We want to mask its reality with words like "passed away" or "departed" or "no longer with us". We sanitize the prospect of death by sending many of the dying to hospitals and we use modern embalming methods to make the dead seem like they are still alive...only sleeping. But the reality is that life is short and if we receive the gift of another day...only then will we be here tomorrow. Everyday is a precious endowment and each morning, as the first waking consciousness of thought floods into our minds, we should be thankful for the gift of another day of life. Being a religious person, I personally thank my God for this special gift.
The distinctive impact of every day is that it holds the promise of a fresh new start. It provides the opportunity to do something different, start something new, break a bad habit, or establish a good habit. In other words, it gives us the power to choose a new course or direction. So why don’t we typically appreciate this fact and fresh prospect? Why do we continue to do and “choose” the same old things every day, including some that are detrimental to us? The answer lies in our life style. We are culturally programmed to desire comfort and resist change. We often know we should change things and we promise ourselves we will do it someday. The problem is that “someday” seldom comes and eventually we all run out of someday’s. This self-imposed “comfort zone” convinces us that change is always something we can do tomorrow. But, here is an absolute truth…today is a gift, and tomorrow is promised to none of us! Dr. Roger Birkman encourages self-discovery and reminds us that:
“Some people who have become successful at “hiding behind” socialized behavior are reluctant to consider the truth about who they really are. Most people don’t mind dealing with their strengths, but prefer to close their eyes to any possible weaknesses.”
Leaders are “agents of change”, and if change is to occur at all it must begin somewhere and within someone. The role of leadership is to envision a better future and become the change agent that makes this future possible. This is true of business, community or personal life. But it all starts with an individual choice to begin a process of change. It has been said that we must become the change we wish to see. Many businesses have “closed their doors” because its management waited too long to begin meaningful change. Many others have failed because they were so unaccustomed to change they were unable to motivate others to participate in their final attempt toward survival. In a similar vain, many individuals have self-destructed because they waited too long to change their dysfunctional lifestyles or to ask for needed help. What I am getting at here is one simple point! Whatever you need to change in your life, or in your business, the time to do it is now! Tomorrow may be too late and odds are if another tomorrow does come, you will also be unwilling to do it then.
I have the good fortune to teach management classes at Bellevue University. These are college Online courses particularly oriented for working adults. Most of these students have full-time family and career responsibilities. These classes are not easy. The outcome and expectation of these classes is the same as in a traditional classroom environment. To be successful requires a real personal sacrifice and dedication. Why do these individuals with other full-time responsibilities tackle a demanding and difficult one-year accelerated management program? Because a day came in their lives where they realized they needed to make a change. They also realized they needed to do it now! Like most individuals, each one of them could have come up with a dozen legitimate reasons why they couldn’t go back to school and get their college degree. Instead, they choose to make an important investment in themselves and their futures…and to do it now. You really have to commend and admire these change agents.
How about ourselves, and the changes we need to make? There is no time like the present. To fulfill our role as leaders requires us to “seize the moment” and begin the difficult process of change...right now. Problems and difficulties don’t go away or solve themselves by negligence; they tend to only get worst. Now please don’t get the wrong impression from this article. My intent is not to encourage anyone to plunge forward with a decision that has not been well conceived, thought out or planned. We need to get the facts and analyze the need for change before lurching into the unknown. However, when we are convinced and know that change is necessary, it is time to act and begin the process.
Do you see changes that need to occur in your personal life? Remember that tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur in your community? Become that advocate of change because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur on the job, in your career or in your business? Become a change agent because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. As authors James Waldroop and Timothy Butler remind us:
“If you are alert to the signs and symptoms of the patterns that cause you trouble, if you are willing to recognize them for what they are, and if you are willing to work hard to keep yourself from falling into the old familiar behaviors---then over time your struggle with self-defeating behaviors will become less difficult and you will be increasingly successful in your efforts.”
I would like to conclude with a couple of thoughts...
Begin to look upon the start of each new day as something special. Don't take a single day for granted. Take at least a few moments during each day to walk around and observe the world. Savor the natural beauty and majesty of an occasional sunrise or sunset. Ask yourself, what did I learn today? Did I make a difference in someone else’s life? Did I encourage someone, thank someone, help someone or bring a smile to another person’s face? These are the soft-skills that effective leaders must master!
Learn to separate your work responsibilities from your family life. Don't carry your work and its frustrations home with you at the end of a day. There are many distractions in life and they can consume our minds and limit our happiness. Work is important...but there is more to life than work. Remember that no ones headstone has the following engraving. "I wish I had spent more time...in the office." Some people foolishly think they can achieve immortality through their work. I prefer the comment I heard in a Woody Allen movie. A character states, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying!”
Each day let your loved ones know just how special they are. You may not get another chance in this lifetime. Too many people delay spending time with their loved ones thinking they can do it on vacation...or when we retire...or during the holidays. Like the need for change, it is often put off until it is too late. Especially if you have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or elderly friends and relatives. Talk to them today…because each day is a gift. If you have a poor relationship with a former friend, coworker or neighbor, talk to them today. Make a serious effort to heal the breach and build a new relationship. Remember people are more important than possessions.
Tomorrow morning another sunrise will occur and a new day will dawn. Billions of individuals will see just another day much like the millions of days that preceded it, and the million more days they expect to follow it. But within this mass of humanity a few individuals will see something more meaningful. Some will be inspired by this unique opportunity to accept leadership roles and become advocates of change. They will realize that this single day is unique and there will never, ever be another one exactly like it. They will understand that they have the power to choose a different outcome in their lives or surroundings. They will make a bold choice to be, or do something different.
I hope that one of these unique individuals is YOU!
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Greg has an extensive thirty-five years experience in public speaking and has spoken to hundreds of audiences worldwide. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University, where he also has served as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership since 2002. His first book, 52 Leadership Tips (That Will Change How You Lead Others) was published in 2006 by WingSpan Press. His second book, Making Life's Puzzle Pieces Fit was published in March 2009. Both are available at amazon.com. Greg is also the president of Leadership Excellence, Ltd and a Managing Partner of the Leadership Management Institute. Leadership Excellence, Ltd. effectively builds individuals and organizations to reach their highest potential through enhanced productivity and personal development using a number of proven programs. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Birkman, Roger. True Colors. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
Waldroop, James., Butler, Timothy. Maximum Success. New York: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000
Leaders are transitioning into the global arena at a greater frequency than ever before. This is the ideal time to address how to approach this transitioning. This article will briefly describe the utilization of cross-cultural transitioning as opposed to mere cross-border transitioning.
It has been stated again and again: most organizations are more global than local. When one considers the vendors with which an organization deals or the employees they hire or the software they utilize, there is a global flavor and dimension to even the smallest enterprise. However, there are legitimate events that occur that cause organizations to begin planning to take their actual operations global. Rising costs of resources, transportation issues, political conflicts, fluid tax regulations and an impoverished talent pool are but a few of the obstacles that may best be overcome by crossing business borders and becoming a truly global organization.
Crossing business borders as well as cultural borders may seem to be a daunting task when it is first approached. That need not be so. Moving to global operations requires some fundamental actions on the part of the manager(s) involved, but it can be accomplished. Briefly, consider the broad, sweeping moves that will be necessary when beginning the new global initiative. Why change operations at all? Identify the reasons behind the global expansion. Reduced transportation costs from factory to end user are a real concern; becoming global just because IBM is global is not a justifiable cause. Where shall the new operations be located? There’s no point in setting up the latest factory in Bangladesh if your customer base is in Switzerland; try moving a little closer. Bangladeshi prices may be just wonderfully affordable but the cost of getting product to consumer will be astronomical — donkeys have to eat as well. Is there a talent resource pool that can be easily accessed or do you have to know the Prince’s son-in-law to get the best people? These are but some of the logistical questions that must be answered when expanding globally. However, global expansion is much more than just spending the money and setting up shop in another land. The remainder of this article will address the most important aspect of global organizational expansion: the cultural crossing.
While crossing business borders can be daunting enough (remember those donkeys), crossing cultural borders is infinitely more exciting, challenging, and rewarding. Nuance plays such a critical role here. Glances and gestures, the position of the eyes or the posture of the body can all be communicative devices if one knows what it all means. Unfortunately, for most North American business people, these things mean nothing; only direct confrontation makes sense. This is understandable as these are the cultural lenses through which most North Americans peer. Though North Americans seem dominant on the global stage; this is often a cultural misunderstanding. In North American business schools and cultures, one is taught to be direct in communication with others. Those who work specifically for one manager are often referred to as “directs.” However, being direct in this manner will often derail an intercultural business proposition before it ever has the opportunity to be examined. In truth, one of the best instructions for North Americans breeching the cultural walls of global business is to “close mouth and listen.”
Having drive and initiative is often a highly desired trait in business. Initiative can actually erect barriers as one enters into global business relationships. Firoz, Maghrabi, and Kim, state, “research indicates that most management techniques are not portable and that cultural-specific training is desperately needed within the ranks of multinational organizations.” In other words, leaders do not rise to the place of global leadership without developing certain techniques that work for them in their current management arena, yet these very techniques may need to be “un-learned,” and new techniques developed in the global business scope. Communication is one place where this variance is clearly noted. Many people in other cultures operate in a “shame” or “face-saving” manner. Direct disagreement will virtually never occur as this may cause the new manager to lose face and cause the direct report to lose face if she is wrong. Instead, indirect communication is likely to take place. For example, the direct report may refer to a non-existent third party in order to place any possible shame on a party that cannot be injured. Again, remaining silent and listening often prove to be the very best means of leading.
Beginning an international venture is much like returning to college. One often learns the most by remaining silent, taking careful notes and practicing excellent listening skills. Additionally, developing intimate relationships with “locals” will give one a mentor to which to turn prior to making a cultural misstep. Global leaders “consciously seek out a sophisticated understanding of how complex data fit together, an understanding that has to be lived, not taught.” Global leaders will value the additional education that is needed to success on this level and will earnestly pursue opportunities that will allow them to improve their global “I.Q.” “Global leaders observe, deliberate, and ponder. They know that reflection, or meditative thinking, ‘does not just happen by itself.’”(Ibid, p 58) It is out of this observation and reflection that global leaders grow and eventually succeed.
By being inquisitive and committed to continual learning, the global leader takes charge of her success and direction. She continually seeks to know more about the culture she inhabits and compares those studies to that which she currently practices. This only happens with intentionality. The global leader understands that “the learning process of individuals in a cross-cultural context requires the creative destruction of barriers to learning and the broadening of access to new sources of knowledge and experience.” Destroying the barriers to learning is often no more than opening up oneself to that which is unfamiliar and agreeing to examine it from the understanding that a difference in leading does not necessarily indicate an inherent wrongness in either approach. It is vitally important for the global leader to allow herself to be a sponge for absorbing the information and cultural clues that will present themselves as she observes the characteristics of doing business in her new culture. By not allowing oneself to exhibit prejudice for one’s own business acumen and understanding that there are numerous ways of doing things across the world; a global leader will develop into one whose specialty is the reinterpretation of techniques so that they may cross cultural barriers and borders. Herein lays the value of the truly global leader: that she can adapt the strategies and policies of her global corporation to the culture in which business is conducted without diluting the strategy or denigrating the culture.
Unending learning will be the global executive’s lifelong associate, servant and guide. It is impossible to place a value on the outcomes that will arise out of this commitment to learning. Developing this habit of continual learning; learning to be found in every circumstance and not halls of education alone, will lead to success in every aspect of life: business, family, and faith. The path toward global leadership must begin at the restructuring of assumptions. One does not reach this level of executive success by virtue of technique, but by a propensity to know what one knows and what one does not know. This follows along the lines of Kolb’s research (1984) concerning experiential learning theory (ELT). “[One] reason to enlist ELT to understand cross-cultural learning lies in its focus on the interactive nature of person and environment in the learning process.” It seems simplistic but often global executive development is of the nature of “diving in and finding out.”
To summarize, the global executive faces one of the most exciting and enduring experiences available to business leaders: that of experiencing a culture different from one’s own and learning to develop one’s technique and style of management within the context of a culture composed of people, laws, governments, and structures that are different by far from what one knows. With this exciting opportunity come challenges and barriers to try the hearts of the strongest individual. By combining the traits of effective listening, experiential learning, inquisitiveness, relational development and pre-developed business and management skills; the global executive will be one of those fortunate few who truly can leave an impression in the global landscape by virtue of their presence. The first step is to close mouth and open ears allowing one to be influenced by her new culture prior to her influencing said culture. There are very few more rewarding experiences than to transform oneself from the selfish and prototypical American business executive into a global executive success.
About the author:
Ralph Johnson is a student at Regent University
This material is copyright protected. No part of this document may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without permission from weLEAD Incorporated. Copyright waiver may be acquired from the weLEAD website.
 Firoz, Nadeem, Ahmad S. Maghrabi, and Ki Hee Kim. “Think Globally, Manage Culturally” International Journal of Commerce and Management, 2002, Vol.12 No. 3 & 4.
 Black, J. Stewart, Allen J. Morrison, and Hal B. Gregersen, Global Explorers: The Next Generation of Leaders, New York: Routledge, 1999. Page 56
 Gahfoor, Shahzad, Fukhaia Kaka Khail, Uzair Farooq Khan, and Faiza Hassan, “An Exploratory Analysis of Experiential Narratives and Implications for Management, Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, June 2011, Vol 3 No 2
 Yamazaki, Yoshitaka and D. Christopher Kayes, “An Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Learning: A Review and Integration of Competencies for Successful Expatriate Adaptation,: Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2004, Vol 3 No 4.
Strategic thinking is a knowledge acquisition process that connects and involves every component and department of an organization by defining the direction of the organization, how it construes its strategy into execution, how it reassesses the organization’s direction, and then fine tuning its path.[i] Organizational leaders who seek to develop successful organizations and ultimately work towards long-term success and sustainability would benefit from adopting strategic thinking and planning skills.
Traditionally, strategic thinking and planning is allied with high level and top leadership teams with an organization.[ii] When a leader applies new thoughts, procedures, and processes to guide the persuasion of organizational members and its components towards the advancement of the organization, the leader is said to be practicing strategic thinking.[iii] Strategic thinking therefore considers the ‘now’ to be able to obtain imminent insight into the future.[iv] When a leader(s) employs activities that direct the organization towards an innovative and competitive arena in today’s internationally aggressive marketplace this includes strategic thinking. Thus, leaders who work towards finding unconventional ways to compete and provide client value are said to be practicing strategic thinking. Such leaders are able to indentify exceptional approaches to provide value to their clients. Strategic thinking is more of an indefinable, methodical, and future oriented activity for leaders.[v] Leaders who are looking for ways to formulate winning strategies for their organizations must consider using strategic thinking as a vehicle.[vi]
Traditional strategic planning relies on systematic processes to ascertain who the organization is in terms of its mission, what the organization does in terms of its believes, where the organization is headed in terms of its vision, and how the organization intends to get there in terms of planning[vii] while strategic thinking centers on mental processes essential for use of information and ideas which form an organization’s prospective direction.[viii] Strategic thinking makes available input for the strategic planning process through ground-breaking opportunities[ix] to enhance the organization’s performance and accomplishments. Strategic planning searches for means to create a new outline of the organization’s direction by adopting a novel and enhanced prospect.[x]
Questions Arose From the Strategic Thinking and Planning Literature
The following questions arose from the literature review based on strategic thinking and planning:
*What do you consider to be your strongest leadership qualities?
*Would you say you possess strategic leadership qualities? If so, mention a few?
*What is the vision of your organization?
*Are your staff/followers familiar with this vision?
*In what ways would you say your staff/followers are supportive of the vision?
*Have you taken part in a strategic planning process as a leader?
*If so, what time frame is adopted for the strategic planning and implementation process of your organization (monthly, quarterly, annually)?
*In your opinion, what is strategic thinking?
*Which strategic thinking and planning skills are necessary for a successful process?
*Which strategic thinking and planning tools do you use for your planning and implementation process?
*What obstacles do you consider as a hindrance to the practice and implementation of strategic thinking and planning within your organization?
*What systems do you have in place to assist you as a leader in identifying strategic thinkers within your organization?
*As a leader, do you use a strategic team? If so, how do you choose your team members?
*What would you consider as your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
*What strategies do you rely on to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to/within your organization?
*What specific tools do you rely on to determine the progress and growth of your organization?
*Please mention and explain 5 trends you perceive as having the potential to impact the long-term performance and success of your organization?
The first leader I chose to meet with was Matthew S. Essieh. Matthew is the president and chief executive officer of an information technology firm called EAI Information Systems located in Beaverton, Oregon. As a visionary leader,[xi] Matthew began his company from scratch 20 years ago. The company develops and modifies software solutions to assist financial service firms in controlling their retail investment programs for superior effectiveness and productivity.
Karen Howells was the second leader I chose to interview. Karen is the president and founder of the Howell’s Group, Inc.; a consulting firm in Portland, Oregon. Karen and her business focus on bringing ‘business to life’ through an exclusive and extremely tailored approach. Karen is a great communicator, a coach and a visionary.[xii]
The third leader interviewed was John T. Goldrick, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life at the University of Portland. John oversees all student services including admissions, financial aid, student activities, judicial affairs, international student issues, career services, the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, residential life, campus, ministry, health services, and public safety. John is a great strategist, a visionary and a great communicator.[xiii]
Responses from Leaders
What do you consider to be your strongest leadership qualities?
According to Matthew Essieh, his strongest leadership qualities include initiative and drive. Matthew reported he is driven internally; action oriented, allows other to follow, develops creative solutions to solve problems, and does not allow perceived problems to stand in his way. Karen Howells mentioned she connects quickly and authentically with clients, has the ability to motivate and influence others to get things done, is able to articulate a vision and inspires others to perform. John Goldrick loves to lead change, manages his employees well, has good intuition when hiring, has experience, works to keep his followers in the spotlight, and considers himself to be allocentric; more follower-centered than leader-centered. John stated he does not look for conflict, but at the same time, does not shy away from it.
Would you say you possess strategic leadership qualities? If so, mention a few?
Each leader I interviewed believes they possess strategic leadership qualities. According to Matthew Essieh, the fact that he founded his company 20 years ago is a sign of possessing strategic leadership qualities. He stated he focuses on broader decision-making without being ‘bogged’ down by details or initiatives. Therefore, he focuses on the broader positive implications of what has to be done. According Matthew, he has always had the vision to own businesses in the United States and he has achieved that vision. Karen Howells’ feels she is able to scan the social and economic environment in order to be in touch with her clients, is pragmatic in her operations, intentionally keeps her business small, and has the ability to listen to client’s and team members’ needs and concerns. John approached the issue of possessing strategic leadership qualities quite differently. According to John, he considers the ‘what, why and when’ with regards to a planning point of view. John also mentioned he relies on assessment tools prior to the implementation of any plan. Therefore, the assessment process assists him in determining whether the move is strategic or not.
What is the vision of your organization?
Regarding the vision of the organization, Matthew Essieh stated his vision is, “To be the leader in providing financial services technology and responsive services to clients.” Karen Howells envisions her organization to be one of the strongest regional players. She also believes it takes leaders and organizations to the next level of success, does not work with failing organizations, and remains a ‘boutique firm’ that customizes its services to meet the needs of clients. According to John Goldrick, University of Portland’s vision is to be the best Catholic teaching university in the western United States focusing on faculty who are abreast in research and publication.
Are your staff/followers familiar with this vision?
Each of the leaders I interviewed stated their followers were familiar with the vision of the organization. According to Matthew, his staff believes in the vision because they live by it every day. “My followers understand that everything is client centered and has to be approached as a strategic partnership with clients,” said Karen Howells. Karen stated she knows her followers have bought into the vision because they often refer her to other clients. John Goldrick strongly believes his followers are familiar with the vision because he seldom discusses issues without relating it to the vision of the university. He also added it is an expectation he has of his followers and is incorporated into how they execute their work on a daily basis.
In what ways would you say your staff/followers are supportive of the vision?
According to Matthew, he reported his follower’s exhibit support for the vision of the organization through the work they do each day by providing innovative technology and responsive services to their customers. He mentioned the vision drives his employees to develop quality products for their clients. Karen Howells stated an emphatic “yes” as evidence of the fact her staff are supportive of the vision of the organization. John Goldrick stated his follower’s support of the vision of the organization and this is reinforced through annual retreats and full day discussions. According to him, his followers also provide regular feedback on the administration by highlighting the positives and negatives.
Have you taken part in a strategic planning process as a leader?
Matthew stated he and the organization has taken part in a strategic planning process and will participate in the process again this year. “Absolutely”, Karen Howells stated when asked whether she has ever taken part in a strategic planning process. According to Karen, she leads a lot of strategic planning session with her clients, as well as, with the staff in her business. John Goldrick stated he has taken part of numerous strategic planning sessions for the university during of fourteen years that he has been there. However, John stated the university does not typically put it into practice and this often results in frustration on the part of the followers. He mentioned the university put together a strategic plan, but it was not used because the goals and objectives were too many. John feels there are many problems associated with strategic plans. First, he thinks strategic plans are not fluent with the total needs of an existing organization. Second, strategic plans are usually not structured to operate as a living document and third, he believes the tasks provided in the strategic plan are usually in conflict with strategic thinking. Thus, he recommends fewer goals, objectives, and tasks should be incorporated into a strategic plan in order to make it more applicable to the specific departments at the university.
If so, what time frame is adopted for the strategic planning and implementation process of your organization (monthly, quarterly, annually)?
According to Matthew, his organization adopts the annual approach to the strategic planning process. He stated his organization revisits the plan annually. Karen Howells reported her firm adopts the semi-annual approach for the strategic planning process. According to Karen, she holds annual meetings with her followers to review the past year as part of their strategic planning process. According to John Goldrick, the University of Portland used to develop a strategic plan every 10 years, but now the school utilizes a five-year approach. He stated this is driven by the academic accreditation board regulations.
In your opinion, what is strategic thinking?
When asked to give his opinion on what he considered as strategic thinking, Matthew stated that he considers “strategic thinking to be the day-to-day operational type of thinking.” He also mentioned it is the process of stepping back and looking at the broader purpose and direction of the organization. Furthermore, he stated strategic thinking includes deliverables and the implementation of a strategic plan to achieve goals, objectives and the purpose of the organization. Matthew gave an example of opening up a new office in Accra, Ghana with a vision to reach out to the West African Sub-region as a form of strategic thinking. According to Karen Howells, a leader’s ability to walk onto a balcony to gain a better view of things in terms of social, economic and political issues determines whether he or she is a strategic thinker. Karen gave an example of a client who is using the current health bill to his advantage, and at the same time, helping others. Karen stated a strategic thinker considers how things fit both inside and outside of the organization to determine what actions need to be taken. “Such leaders strive to be ahead of the game,” Karen remarked. For John Goldrick strategic thinking comes into perspective when a leader considers the ‘why’ and not the ‘what’. Thus, the leader considers why the organization is doing what it has set out to do and asks if it is taking the appropriate path.
Which strategic thinking and planning skills are necessary for a successful process?
With regards to strategic thinking and planning skills necessary for a successful process, Matthew stated as the CEO of the organization, he considers the direction of a proposed product, what competitors are offering and whether the product will be successful within the next three years. He also mentioned he works in collaboration with his project manager who skills assist in product development. The project manager assists in determining the sustainability and success of the product and the costs involved. Karen Howells mentioned the following skills as necessary for a successful strategic thinking and planning process. For strategic thinking, the leader must be able to look ahead and envision the organization by utilizing different approaches. She also mentioned a strategic leader must know the market in which he or she operates in. For strategic planning to take place, Karen mentioned the leaders must seek to engage the entire organization in the process. According to Karen, she believes funneling, environmental scan, and annual planning sessions can facilitate a successful process. John Goldrick stated no planning process works if it originates from the top. Therefore, he listens to his followers and adopts an all inclusive process of planning. Trust, honesty, and openness are key to a strategic thinking and planning process. He stated leaders who are not open and do not listen develop ineffective plans.
Which strategic thinking and planning tools do you use for your planning and implementation process?
Matthew stated he uses individual people as tools for the planning and implementation process. He reported he relies on key players and stakeholders within his organization such as board members, staff members, and clients. He also reported he creates a culture of strategic thinking and planning to be used as a tool for the implementation process. According to Karen, she uses the ‘sticky wall’ idea as a tool during the strategic thinking and planning process. During this process, participants are encouraged to write their personal vision, mission, goals, objectives, and ideas, as well as, that of the organization. Karen then uses the data collected for the planning and implementation process. Karen also mentioned brainstorming and funneling as effective tools for the strategic thinking and planning process. John Goldrick stressed the use of communication as a dynamic tool for the strategic thinking and planning process. He suggested leaders adopt a discussion and explanation strategy when thinking and planning with their followers. Promulgation of information is key for a successful planning and thinking process, John Goldrick said.
What obstacles do you consider as a hindrance to the practice and implementation of strategic thinking and planning within your organization?
When the organizational culture is not open and receptive to strategic thinking and planning processes, its practice and implementation becomes an issue for leadership and followers, Matthew remarked. According to him, when followers are not invested in the overall success of the organization it becomes difficult for leadership to implement strategic thinking within the organization. Followers not just interest in their paycheck can be a huge success for this process. Karen stated the size of her organization is often a hindrance to strategic thinking and planning. She also mentioned a lack of energy because of other life circumstances have been a barrier to strategically thinking and planning for the organization’s progress and growth. John Goldrick mentioned a lack of creativity, a fear of change, apprehension towards taking risks, a fear of making mistakes, the inability to lack failure and a refusal to undertake true assessment of the situation can be huge hindrances to the strategic thinking and planning process.
What systems do you have in place to assist you as a leader in identifying strategic thinkers within your organization?
According to Matthew, he identifies strategic thinkers by providing followers with the opportunity to lead a software development project. He also creates small and ad hoc teams for individual followers to be given the opportunity to solve problems and develop new ideas. Karen relies on team members to assist in the strategic thinking process and therefore identifies who excels in such an area. She also works towards identifying potential employees and places them on short-term projects to allow her to observe and confirm they possess strategic thinking skills. John Goldrick, on the other hand, does not consider this process as a system. According to him, it is more of an appraisal process which he undertakes once a year with his followers to identify strengths and weaknesses. After this process, “I am able to identify strategic thinkers,” John said. However, he stated it is a difficult process to undertake with university administrators.
As a leader, do you use a strategic team? If so, how do you choose your team members?
Matthew reported he uses strategic leadership teams within specific departments. Karen Howells uses a team of consultants as her strategic leadership team. According to Karen, when the need arises she utilizes other individuals from other organizations who possess the skills needed. According to John Goldrick, his strategic leadership team comprises of his staff which is made up of fourteen departmental heads. He reported the team meets for two hours every two weeks to deliberate on issues concerning the university. He stated, “I could not function without the team,” John said. He reported such collaboration allows us to work towards a common goal he concluded.
What would you consider as your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Matthew mentioned his organization possesses the following strengths. It is responsive to clients’ needs, flexible to solve client needs, relies on client needs to define its problems and adapts to client needs. He felt the organization had the following weaknesses: unrealistic client expectations and the lack of stability of a product. Matthew stated his organization is flexible and responsive and therefore this can be seen as an opportunity. The inability to meet customer expectations, a threat to credibility and the potential to lose customers are seen as threats, according the Matthew.
According to Karen, the individual clients the organization works with and the reputation of her team members are seen as strengths. As a leader, Karen stated her inability to clearly see the future is a weakness. Karen reported she has not been in good health over the past year and therefore does not have a committed direction for the organization and as a result has not marketed her services as readily as in recent years.
John Goldrick stated the strengths of the University of Portland is that it is a Catholic University and University of Portland is aware of what it wants. The University of Portland lacks self-confidence and therefore this is seen as a weakness. However, he sees opportunities in the horizon as individuals are beginning to recognize the identity of the institution. He foresees secularization and narcissism of the American society, the growing need for instant gratification, and the delayed enjoyment in higher education as threats to the welfare of the institution.
What strategies do you rely on to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to/within your organization?
Clear communication of customers’ expectations; internally enforcing flexibility, responsiveness to customer needs, and communication among leaders and followers; and ongoing training and accountability are strategies that Matthew utilizes to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to his organization. Karen uses change initiatives and time-lines to combat weaknesses and threats within her organization. John employs open communication; a collective approach to leadership; and endless conversation around the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the institution to combat weaknesses and threats.
What specific tools do you rely on to determine the progress and growth of your organization?
In determining the progress and growth of the his organization, Matthew keeps close accounts of sales figures, the measurement of profitability, client retention, cost management and the measurement of growth and retention of staff. According to Karen, she considers ‘how full the pipeline is,’ how may referrals the firm receives, and the level revenue for the firm. John presented a different approach to determining the progress and growth of his organization. According to John, he uses assessment tools and performance appraisals and reviews on a regular basis.
Please mention and explain 5 trends you perceive as having the potential to impact the long-term performance and success of your organization?
According to Matthew, the contraction and expansion of the financial services industry, mergers and acquisitions within the industry and the changing pace of technology and staying abreast of such changes are potential trends that may affect his organization. He also mentioned the workforce in the United States over the most recent years has not seen enough individuals being trained within the information technology industry. Therefore there is a limited workforce to tap into. He also stated the cost of labor and current privacy laws and regulations regarding sensitive data may also have an adverse affect on his organization in the near future. Karen believes the following trends will impact her organization’s performance and success over the course of time: clients’ desire for instant gratification, organizational fatigue and overload, and competition from competitors. Karen also mentioned the emergence and growth of small businesses can have a huge impact on her organization. Karen believes the current generation of young people, will have a significant impact on her company. John had similar views with Karen. John perceives secularization, narcissism, instant gratification and federal government regulations will impact the performance and success of the University of Portland.
The leaders in this interview were carefully selected as a result of my interests and practice in consulting and higher education. The questions were carefully crafted to elicit the needed information from the selected leaders regarding what they considered as their strengths as leaders and in the area of strategic thinking and planning. Interestingly the three leaders had similar views though operate in different industries. Their views regarding trends that will impact the future of their organization are proof of their ability to think and plan strategically in order to run successful organizations. All three leaders provided great examples of visionary leadership and they brought strategic thinking and planning to life. It is therefore in the good interest of organizational leaders to research and practice strategic thinking and planning principles. Leaders who lack the ability to think and plan strategically must rely on internal and external consultants[xiv] who will facilitate the process of imparting the needed knowledge, skills and expertise for a successful operation. Such leaders can take steps to build a resource base of materials centered on strategic thinking and planning for their organizations for the use of their followers in order to develop a culture of strategic thinking and planning in their organizations.
[i] Hughes, R. & Beatty, K.C (2005). Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success. Jossey- Boss, San- Francisco, CA.
[ii] Fairholm, M. & Card, M. (2009). Perspectives of Strategic Thinking: From Controlling Chaos to Embracing it. Journal of Management. 15(1), 17-30.
[iii] Hughes, R. & Beatty,K.C (2005). Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success. Jossey- Boss, San- Francisco, CA.
[iv] Sanders, I. (1998). Strategic Thinking. Strategy & Leadership. 33(5), 5-12
[v] Goldman, E.F. (2007). Strategic Thinking at the Top. MITSloan Management Review. 48 (4). 75-80
[vi] Abraham, S. (2005). Stretching Strategic Thinking. Strategy & Leadership. 33(5) 5-12.
[vii] Strong, B. (2005) Strategic Planning: What’s So Strategic About It? Educase Quarterly.
[viii] Sanders. (1998).
[ix] Briefing Notes: What is Strategic Thinking? (Philadelphia, PA: Center for Applied Research, 200), 1.
[x] Fairholm & Card. (2009).
[xi]Jones, T. (2010). What is Your Vision? Leadership Excellence. 27(3), 6.
[xii] Robert N. Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C.F. (2007). Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development: Thompson Higher Education. Mason, Ohio.
[xiii]Richardson, D. (2009). The Urgency Factor…Leadership Communication In Chaotic Times. Of Counsel. 28(8), 10-13.
[xiv] Block, P. (2000), Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA. 5.
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