What does it take to develop Strategic Leadership?

November 22nd, 2017 Insightful Strategy
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We are often asked this question and reflecting back on the early days of mobile telephony, there are many lessons to be learnt. So many times accounts of brilliant strategies are impressive but with the benefit of hindsight. There is the suspicion the story fits the outcome.

In reality, when leading organisations, CEO's wrestle with substantial uncertainty and a range of potential outcomes. Frustratingly, drivers of previous success may be the source of future failure. In the early 2000's there were arguments against cameras in phones, against color displays and many reasoned arguments for alternative drivers of growth.

Its extremely hard to ask customers what they want if they have never experienced a particular product or service. What does help is to look beyond the immediate and explore unfulfilled latent needs. These may be ill defined, and obscure but true Strategic Leadership is the pursuit of this insight. 

In 2001, as a component supplier we looked into the latent needs of our customers customer and saw a world that would not exist for another 5 or 10 years. But even after seeing this, to make the right strategic choices is not straight forward.This experience helped shape a range of concepts we have found useful and applying them, can be the basis for developing strategic leadership in your team 

Create the Future:  Do not accept the conventional explanation of the future as correct. Direct competitors, and current customers may be convincing but more than ever the source of disruption comes from the unexpected.  Sense the most subtle of signals, go where others dismiss, explore the unlikely, have the courage to shape the future not simply prepare for its arrival. 

Be Proactively Creative: Recognize and quantify uncertainty and understand the range of potential outcomes. When is a decision really necessary? Acknowledge a decision is only made when an irrevocable commitment of resource is executed. 

Understand the key drivers of alternative outcomes and be ready. Committing too early can be as damaging as committing too late. Turn uncertainty into your advantage. Do not be limited by the people in the room. Bias is comforting and the refuge of failure. Question yourself, question your team, and based on sound reasoning break through and commit to action. 

Make it Happen: Be confident you have made the best decision in the face of considerable uncertainty on the best information available at the time. Be realistic in your assessment of outcomes. Was it withing the range of predicted possibilities or was something missed that we could improve for the next decision?

Developing Strategic Leadership, and through it, true insight, requires a systematic and rigorous approach but is the only way of building true value. The success story with hindsight will surely then be written.

The author was the CEO of Philips Mobile Displays between 2000 and 2003 and led the business through one of the most trans-formative periods in mobile telephony. He subsequently led the Asia Region of Strategic Decisions Group (SDG) to 2017 and is a member of the Society of Decision Professionals. 

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