The Art of Strategic Leadership: How Leaders at All Levels Prepare Themselves, Their Teams, and Organizations for the Future
Steven J. Stowell and Stephanie S. Mead
John Wiley & Sons (2016)
“The future is already here. – it’s just not evenly distributed.” William Gibson
In Strategy Is Everyone’s Job, Steven Stowell and Stephanie Mead explain how and why even a slight competitive advantage can be decisive for an organization…and a career. Long ago, I concluded that strategies are “hammers” that drive tactics (“nails”) for individuals, groups, and even entire organizations. Metaphors such as “hammers” and “nails” can be extended but only for a finite distance.
In their latest collaboration, Stowell and Mead explain how and why effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of an enterprise “prepare themselves, their teams, and organizations for the future.” I happen to agree with Gibson that the future is here or, agreeing with Peter Drucker, that at least some of the future now en route can be created or at least managed to serve one’s purposes.
Whatever you may think about all this, Stowell and Mead provide an abundance of information, insights, and counsel embedded within a business narrative that anchors fictitious characters in real-world circumstances with which almost all readers can identify. Details of the narrative are best revealed in context. However, I feel comfortable divulging that the business issues are plausible, the story line is not overcooked by melodrama, and the resolution is plausible. Each of Chapters 2-13 begins with a segment of the story, followed by comments by Stowell and Mead that facilitate, indeed expedite their reader’s interaction with the material. The best works of non-fiction function both as window and as mirror. That is certainly true of this one.
The gambler that Kenny Rogers sings about was a strategic thinker: He knew when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to run. Don Schlitz wrote the lyrics for that song and may have been channeling Art of War. How’s this for a paraphrasing of one of Sun Tzu’s key concepts? If every battle is won or lost before it is fought, why can’t the future be known before it arrives?
These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Stowell and Mead’s coverage:
o Strategic leadership (Pages 1-10 and 165-180)
o Business plan (11-17)
o Qualities of Leadership (19-27)
o Team (29-35)
o Leaders on leadership (37-43)
o Ownership (45-61)
o Tenacity (63-78)
o Risk (79-97)
o Agility (99-115)
o Dashboard for awareness (126-128)
o Change (133-148)
o Vision (149-163)
o Focus: Four-phase framework (167-176)
With regard to the seven essential qualities of strategic leaders on which Stowell and Mead in their “business story,” here’s my take on them, listed in alpha order:
Agility: Capable of rapid response ion thought and deed in any direction, on a moment’s notice.
Awareness: What Ellen Langer means by “mindfulness”; sees or anticipates what others don’t.
Drives Change: Focuses on getting results and will “make haste slowly,” if necessary, to achieve objectives.
Ownership: Assumes full personal accountability for consequences of actions (including decisions).
Risk: Respects dangers, understands potential consequences, is proactive and willing to take prudent risks.
Tenacity: Sharply focused, takes a pit bull approach to answering questions and solving problems.
Vision: Sees both the BIG picture and all the significant details; when planning, begins at the end.
Steven Stowell and Stephanie Mead wrote this book to help as many people as possible to become much more aware of a global marketplace that has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember. To think strategically is to take what has already happened into full account, apply the most relevant lessons learned from past experience to the current situation, and — to the extent possible — identify the most likely contingencies and their degree of probability, then prepare accordingly.
In essence, that is what leadership is and does…and is needed at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.