The Key Leadership Skill

Here was a recent headline that caught my eye, “Record Number of Women in Congress Out to Change Tone.” Anything about women and leadership always seems to catch my eye. For many of us, we are looking for those female role models who can show us the way up the corporate ladder or show us how to build a successful business while still maintaining our sanity and a home life. Here are a few nuggets I found while researching this article: That record number of women in Congress includes 78 women in the House and 20 Senators. More women than men are now earning college degrees. Catalyst studies in 2008 found that 16 percent of corporate officers and 15 percent of boards of directors in Fortune 500 companies were women. A report by the European Commission in 2007 found similar disparities in representation among organizations in the European Union. Closer to home, in a Feb. 6, 2013 article on gender in The State News, it was reported that 46 percent of assistant professors were women; 42 percent of associate professors were women and 23 percent of professors were women. And while we can be downhearted about the lack of equity or applaud the gains being made (depending on your perspective or focus), I’m curious about what it takes to get to the upper echelons. MRG Research, 2009 MRG (Management Research Group), based in Portland, Maine and Dublin, Ireland, does substantial research on all aspects of leadership.  Recently published findings (2009) using archives of results from the LEA (Leadership Effectiveness Analysis), their popular 360 leadership development tool found the following results:
  • Leaders who were high on “strategic” were five times more likely to be seen as effective, independent of any of their other behaviors.
  • When asked to select leadership behaviors most critical to their organization’s success, executives chose strategic 94 percent of the time.
Ok, so having a strategic orientation and being able to see the big picture is important for anyone in a top leadership role. How does one go about developing this critical skill? Here are some ideas to amp up your strategic focus:
  • Have a vision. Great strategic thinkers are visionaries. They see the big picture. Where is your business going? What’s the vision for your organization?
  • Practice noticing what’s going on around you. Develop a high level of awareness. Be open to absorbing all that you can. In any organization, there are clues, often subtle, both inside and outside of our field, to help guide future direction and to identify opportunities. Great strategic thinkers take all of this in.
  • Set aside time to think about all the experiences and information you are noticing. In our face-paced world, it can be challenging to carve out time to just think. Maybe turn off the car radio and use the silence to your advantage. Create some “white space.”
  • Cultivate patience. Strategic thinking is about the longer-term future, rather than about today, tomorrow or next week.
  • Be open-minded. Great strategic thinkers do not corner themselves by constantly judging their thinking as they think up ideas. It’s sometimes difficult to quiet those internal naysayer voices, so practice noticing with an open-mind and save the judging and testing of new ideas for later.
  • Seek the advice and perspective of others. This may take the form of bouncing ideas off a team of people; participating in a mastermind group; or working with a strategic- thinking business coach.
Here’s to the day when the gender numbers are closer to 50-50 in all realms — business, education, government. And until that time, it’s up to all of us to keep learning and developing those key skill sets, especially strategic thinking.

Tags: Business coach, leadership, skills


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

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