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The 10 Characteristics Of A Good Strategic
Congratulations—you’ve taken the first important step toward
improving your strategic leadership skills by landing on this
article. Whether you’re a senior leader or a new manager, doing
research in an effort to change is admirable.
Strategic leadership is learned—it does not come naturally. Therefore, educating
yourself about the characteristics you want to embody will help you become a
better leader. We’ve done some deep thinking around strategic leadership here at
ClearPoint, and these are the top ten characteristics we believe are critical to
After you read through the top characteristics key for a good leader, take this free
leadership self assessment to learn your own leadership strengths and
weaknesses and receive a report breaking down each of your leadership
competencies (it only takes 10-15 minutes to complete!).
The 10 Characteristics Of A Good Strategic
1. Strong Communication
Without a doubt, being an effective communicator is a top attribute of a strategic
leader. You may have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you
can’t convey it to your team or colleagues, it will be almost impossible to carry out.
By developing the ability to clearly describe what you want done and relate it to your
team, you will unite everyone’s efforts. More specifically, your team needs to be
aligned and on-board with your strategic objectives and goals to be successful.
Communication also extends to “softer skill” practices, like having an open-door
policy or holding regular one-on-one meetings with team members. Express your
vision clearly and then make yourself accessible to discuss anything going on in the
2. Good Listening Skills
While effectively communicating your expectations and vision is one of the top
strategic leadership characteristics, it’s also important to listen to what your team has
to say. “Speaking and hearing” are two sides of the same coin and the best leaders
do both well.
As Mark Twain said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when
you would have rather talked.” Listening seems deceptively simple, but it can be
difficult to pause in the middle of your busy day to sit with an employee or quietly
tune in from the sidelines of a strategic planning meeting. Employees need to know
their concerns and ideas are being heard—this not only helps build morale, but it
makes your organization better because you are getting input from the people who
are on the front lines. A leader who practices the art of listening gains the knowledge
needed to solve problems, improve products or services, and build a strong
3. Passion & Commitment
Enthusiasm for your mission or project will get others excited because they can see
and feel your dedication. But you must also add commitment to the mix of strategic
leadership qualities, because passion doesn’t always get the job done. Commitment
is the ability to stay focused on what will make you successful.
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One simple way to convey your passion and commitment is to lead by example. You
expect your team to work hard and produce quality results, so roll up your sleeves
and join them. Team motivation significantly increases when people see their boss
working alongside them, putting in the same level of effort (or more) than everyone
else. When you show that hard work is being done on every level of the organization,
you prove your commitment and earn the respect of your team as a leader.
Another idea that we have seen from some leaders in Balanced Scorecard
organizations is to always carry a version of your strategy map. It could be pocket-
size or wallet-size, or printed and put in a notebook. This will allow you to regularly
ask your colleagues and employees where they fit in on the strategy and how they
regularly contribute. Furthermore, this highlights a passion for your strategy, and
helps with the first attribute: good communication. Soon you may find that everyone
carries their own copy of the strategy map!
A positive attitude is contagious. If your team is led and surrounded by happy and
positive people, they will work harder and be happier themselves. Positivity can take
many forms in the workplace—from providing snacks in the communal kitchen to
keeping an upbeat tone in your internal emails. Of course there should be a balance
between play time and productive time, but do your best to create a positive,
supportive environment during the workday.
Keep in mind that some leaders conduct strategy review meetings and only focus on
the problems—i.e. the red and yellow items in their scorecard. You definitely want to
be aware of issues (as no good leader has their head in the sand), but you must also
take the time to recognize things that are going well with your strategy and celebrate
When you’ve been working at a company for years, or simply been in the same
career for a while, it’s easy to get stuck. Being a strong leader requires practicality
and realism, but just as importantly it requires having an eye for innovation and the
vision to execute on it. Nimbly adjusting and adapting to current business or
economic environments is a valuable skill to foster.
In other words, don’t get too comfortable. If an idea or process is foreign to you,
assess it and look at the benefits of implementing something new. Characteristics of
a strategic leader include being open to change and “left-field” thoughts, because
that is precisely what will give you a competitive advantage. By making sound
decisions based on data, no vision or innovation will be too far afield.
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Remember that you may not be the most innovative person in the room—but you still
need to foster innovation amongst your team. Be sure to have sessions or days
where you encourage ideas about innovating around your strategy, and give some of
the ideas the resources they need to be tested or expanded. If you never allow team
members to innovate, they will have no examples inside of the organization to point
to in order to make suggestions in the future.
Having a collaborative approach to leadership is powerful because it naturally
creates transparency in your organization. If you’re connected to your team and
genuinely interested in collaborating with them, they will know what you’re thinking
and vice versa. Collaboration leads to trust, and your team will be more likely to
support your vision. If you’re not getting buy-in on that strategic plan you’ve
created, it’s not going to be effective. People want to own what they help create.
One way to improve collaboration is to create some small projects and put others in
charge. Play the role of participant on the project instead of being a leader. Show
your colleagues that you respect their ideas and approach. From there, you can
begin implementing this with bigger projects and initiatives. Be sure to give credit
where it’s due—in public—so that others can see that you appreciate their
In many ways, strategic leadership all begins with honesty. Being forthright about
your successes, failures, and reasoning for choosing certain strategies and goals
over others will earn the respect of your team. Following the motto of “honesty is the
best policy” generates trust within your organization.
Being honest isn’t always easy, because it requires communicating both the good
and the bad. It’s not about popularity, but rather about integrity. Within the space of a
quarter, you may have to tell employees both that you’re over budget and need to
cancel initiatives, and that you outpaced benchmarks and are leading the industry in
Being an honest leader also includes being publicly transparent. Municipalities,
nonprofits, healthcare facilities, and other similar organizations are under the most
pressure to exhibit transparency. All leaders, but particularly those beholden to
regulatory compliance, should be clear about plans, progress, and results. When
you’re honest and transparent, it’s easier to get everyone on the same page and
earn the trust of your employees and community when trying to achieve your
Honesty is always the best policy, but strategic leadership often requires you to be
tactful. Diplomacy is a learned skill that helps leaders effectively manage conflict
using negotiation and sensitivity. It requires an unbiased, strategic approach to
problem solving. As Henry Kissinger defined it, diplomacy is “the art of restraining
Honesty is always the best policy, but strategic leadership often
requires you to be tactful.CLICK TO TWEET
It’s inevitable when planning and executing your strategy that you’ll deal with
disagreements and competing priorities. Having different points of view ultimately
strengthens your organization, but it’s a reality that can be challenging to manage in
the short term. What if your strategy team disagrees on how to measure a customer
objective? How can you please two department heads who both want ownership
over a key initiative? Strategic leadership is being able to navigate these difficulties
and turn them into win-win situations whenever possible.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean you’re the organization’s resident therapist. It means
you try to understand your team’s problems by walking in their shoes and seeing
things from their perspective. Practicing empathy creates meaningful connections
because leaders develop an awareness of the challenges and needs of a team or
department, versus sitting oblivious in an ivory tower.
Aside from the interpersonal benefits, empathy is also a practical tool. When you
truly understand what it takes to execute a strategy—the skills, resources, projects,
and more—you’re able to set more realistic goals and timelines. For example, a
product team may need a certain amount of time to properly test the UX, or a sales
team may need an updated CRM system to hit their revenue goals. Empathetic
leaders gain the respect of employees and are more likely to successfully execute
the organization’s strategies because they know exactly what it takes to get the job
Humility is one of the most respected strategic leadership qualities. Humble leaders
admit their mistakes, apologize when necessary, and always share credit. This
behavior makes you more “human” and relatable; it’s also simply a best practice to
empower and reward others instead of acting like the smartest person in the room
(even if you are!).
Practice humility not only with other people, but with your planning and processes.
This means recognizing you don’t know everything and some of the best strategies
have flaws. By being open to learning and leaving your ego at the door, you’re
poised to help your organization adapt and improve.
To recap, effective, good strategic leaders are strong communicators, active
listeners, passionate, positive, innovative, collaborative, honest, diplomatic,
empathetic, and humble. By taking the steps to embody these qualities, you're
already becoming a better leader and can help move your team towards success!
A final thing to consider is that strategic leadership is different for everyone. How
your leadership characteristics manifest depends on the company culture and
existing frameworks, as well as your individual skills. For example, effective
communication channels will look very different for a manager who is working on-site
daily with the team versus a remote manager checking in every so often. Adapt your
strategic leadership style to fit your role, your company, and your working situation.
Part of being a good leader is the ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.
To sharpen that skill, you may want to sharpen your internal reporting process. If this
process runs smoothly, you can help keep your team on the right track toward