Leadership Strategy: The Essential Guide

May 5, 2022 | HR Trends, Professional Development

Improving people management skills helps leaders boost engagement and productivity each day. But leaders also need to gain a bigger picture understanding of how to succeed. Help them step back and gain that big-picture perspective by developing a personal leadership strategy.


1. The Importance of Leadership Strategy

2. What Is Leadership Strategy

3. Leadership Strategies and Tactics

4. Developing Strategic Thinking Skills

5. Bad Leadership Strategies

6. Leadership Strategy Development

The Importance of Leadership Strategy

Why is leadership strategy so important?

A good leadership strategy ensures a leader’s ability to carry out their mission and objectives. In other words, it determines their success as a leader. In turn, this shapes the organization’s success. A strategic approach to leadership enables leaders to act in alignment with organizational goals.

Within both daily people management and major decisions, they’ll work to fulfill their mission. Plus, following a consistent approach will keep their team on task and engaged. 

Importantly, having a strategy also means leaders can measure their success. Then, they can be held accountable for making improvements. 

What Is Leadership Strategy

The term “leadership strategy” can refer to two closely related things:

  • An organization’s strategy for selecting and developing leaders. 
  • Leaders’ individual strategies for leading their teams.

We’re primarily referring to individual strategy in this article. However, leaders’ personal strategy should be informed by organizational leadership strategy. Here’s how this works.

  • HR works with company leadership to define an overarching leadership strategy. This includes the skills and competencies leaders need in order to fulfill their vision and mission. It also addresses nuts and bolts like how many leaders you’ll need in the coming years. 
  • Leaders develop a personal strategy that matches this organizational leadership strategy. HR can work with them to develop it. 

Let’s take a closer look at how to develop your overarching leadership strategy. Then, we’ll examine elements of a personal leadership strategy.

Overarching leadership strategy

When developing your overarching leadership strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where is our leadership talent gap? Identify the skills and competencies that are lacking.
  • What are the 3–5 key drivers of success for our leaders? Think of these as the organizational accomplishments that help achieve the mission. For instance, satisfying customers or finding low-budget materials can be key drivers, says the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL).
  • How do we define our desired leadership culture? Have we achieved that culture, or what do we need to do in order to get there?
  • What leadership strategy approach best fits our culture? (We’ll dive into approaches in a moment.)
  • What is the demographic makeup of our teams? Do we need leaders to reflect those demographics or display greater inclusiveness?
  • What behavioural characteristics do our leaders need to possess?
  • How many leaders do we project we’ll need in the next three years? Can we predict any turnover that may occur?

Use your answers to develop a strategic plan for growing organizational leadership. Then, you can translate this plan into individual leadership strategies. 

Elements of personal leadership techniques

Personal leadership strategy encompasses the following elements:

  • Defined leadership style
  • Clear objectives for what the leader wants to achieve
  • Developmental plan with measurable goals for personal growth.

Each leader needs a personalized plan that includes all of these elements. 

Leadership Strategies and Tactics

Corporate man displaying leadership strategy to another on laptop
Credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Pexels

We’ve outlined the most important elements of leadership strategy in more detail here. Together, they will help a leader effectively guide and mentor a team.

Building a leadership style

Personal leadership style is a crucial element of strategy. Some leaders have a preferred style. Others may adopt a different one. Each leader’s style will guide their approach in daily interactions with employees.

Here are several key leadership styles:

  • Democratic leadership: In this style, leaders seek input from each member of the group. They also value everyone’s voice equally. So, they hold lots of group discussions on new ideas. If they go overboard, though, people could get bogged down by meetings. The leader must sometimes be the one to actually make the decision.
  • Servant leadership: Servant leaders follow a service-first mindset in their relationship with employees. They believe their job is to make employees’ experience better. Often they work hand-in-hand with employees and act like their equals. They work to support employees’ personal growth, holding lots of one-on-ones.

    And they display a great deal of empathy for people in their daily work. 
  • Transformational leadership: These leaders empower employees to work in a higher-level capacity by challenging and mentoring them. They guide people to grow and practice new skills. By giving them ownership of bigger assignments, they prepare them to become leaders themselves. Transformational leaders show people how they fit into the grand scheme
  • Transactional leadership: This involves using rewards and punishment to motivate employees. This style doesn’t tend to inspire innovation or a deep belief in a vision. It could work for a short-term project that people must do in a precise way.

Transformational and transactional leadership are different approaches. The former focuses on giving employees autonomy and empowerment. The latter de-emphasizes personal autonomy and ownership. A transformational or servant leader could also follow a democratic approach. Hence, you could display elements of several styles. 

Depending on your leadership strategy, any of the styles above may work.

Defining key objectives

Leaders must also define their goals and objectives. First, they must set their desired goal. Next, they need to establish a timeframe for achieving it. Then, they must determine measurable results that will show they’ve achieved it. Read our in-depth post on setting objectives and key results for more guidance.

Developing Strategic Thinking Skills

Two Black women in meeting discussing leadership strategy
Credit: Christina Morillo/Pexels

Regardless of personal style, all leaders will benefit from a set of critical thinking skills. The following six skills are particularly important. Share the skill-building tips for each skill with leaders to help them grow.

Anticipate issues

They must identify potential threats so they’re not caught off guard. This will allow them to plan for different scenarios.

How to build this skill: Do a scenario-planning exercise to map out different possibilities. Outline next steps for each one. Talk them through with someone else to dig deeper.

Challenge assumptions

They must get to the root of a problem by digging into its true cause.

How to build this skill: Write down the things you believe (or “know”) to be true. You can begin to challenge limitations or barriers by spelling them out, then questioning them. Questions like “Why do I believe that?” “What makes that true?” and “What would change that?” will help.

Interpret information

Leaders must make sense of complex information through expert analysis. This is why some people fit better within a given leadership strategy more than others.

How to build this skill: First, equip yourself with the right tools. Performance analysis software can help make sense of engagement, productivity, and more. 

Make decisions

Having a clear decision-making process will let leaders evaluate tradeoffs and arrive at sound conclusions.

How to build this skill: Get feedback from the people closest to the issue. Do a risk-benefit analysis by weighing potential consequences against results. Consider whether it has long-term as well as short-term benefits.

Achieve alignment

Alignment between stakeholders is key. Leaders must know how to bring others on board, building consensus.

How to build this skill: Learn to think from the other person’s perspective. Consider what motivates them and explain how the current project supports that.

Learn from past experiences

They must reflect on past experiences to learn lessons from them.

How to build this skill: Debrief projects through in-depth conversations with teams and other stakeholders.

Cultivating strong interpersonal skills

These human skills are just as important as those above—if not more so. These skills will help leaders build trust and a rapport with your team. If leaders need to develop these skills, share the tips for building them.

  • Be accountable. Practice apologizing for mistakes and fixing them. Take ownership of your shortcomings by working to improve.
  • Communicate thoroughly. Tell people what you expect of them and give good instructions. Make sure they understand the plan. And check in often to follow up.
  • Demonstrate that you’re reliable. Consistently do what you’ve pledged to do. If you currently find yourself overburdened, start under-promising and over-delivering.
  • Show compassion. Have a supportive attitude, particularly when people are struggling. Try to identify when people are having a tough time by their expression and demeanour. Don’t just solve problems for them, but listen, ask questions, and share input. 

Creating a personal development plan

In addition to a chosen style, leaders need a plan for personal growth. What skills and competencies do they need to develop? Look at the ones you’ve defined above. Then, determine where each leader’s personal skills gaps lie. Help them pinpoint areas for growth and next steps to take. 

Choose measurable goals for your personal growth plan. They should allow leaders to clearly determine their progress. 

Bad Leadership Strategies

Poor leadership strategies (or lack of strategies) sabotage team success. For instance, being an authoritarian leader disempowers teams. Plus, it creates a lot of resentment! Furthermore, being authoritarian can stifle creativity. Team members are afraid to voice ideas within that dynamic. 

Similarly, leaders should avoid being a “helicopter autocrat.” This version of an authoritarian leader stays hands-off much of the time. However, the helicopter boss also swoops in occasionally to give harsh feedback or orders. This brash, impersonal, and controlling approach does little to empower or engage.

Avoid laissez-faire leadership, too. Like the helicopter boss, the laissez-faire leader stays mostly hands-off. Employees receive very little input from this leader, as McKinsey says. This causes employees to flounder, wondering if they’re on the right track.

Now, let’s discuss how to support leaders’ growth and measure success. 

Leadership Strategy Development

In many cases, leaders don’t have the mentoring they need to excel. Use these tips to help them excel in their leadership strategy. And remember, they’ll be perfecting it over time.

  • Use supervisor evaluations to gain detailed feedback on leaders’ performance. These evaluations seek input from the people the leader supervises. This will provide a clear picture of the leader’s people management skills. 
  • Collect 360 feedback from a range of people the leader works with. This will give you a well-rounded understanding of the leader’s progress. 
  • Check in with leaders routinely about challenges and questions they may encounter. Informal conversations with their manager, coach, or HR supervisor can provide much-needed guidance. Schedule these conversations to take place at least once a month, at regular times.
  • Provide feedback via performance reviews to improve leadership strategy. This feedback should synthesize the feedback conversations you’ve had over the review period. In essence, it provides a bigger-picture perspective that summarizes progress toward goals.

Taking these steps will help you fulfill your organizational mission. Leaders will be focused on achieving your overarching vision every day. Just as importantly, they’ll have the skills to lead their teams to success. Just remember, mentoring never ends. Continue providing guidance to even advanced leaders so they continue to grow!

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