There is a cadence to every organization. Strategist leaders can feel the rhythm and beat, working to sustain, vitalize, and quicken the pace. It’s the core competency of top-level corporate leadership.
The successful Strategist Leader masters the complexity of large or complex organizations. To quicken the cadence of an organization requires thinking about all of its moving parts — from envisioning new products and business units, to building high-performing teams, to the board of directors, to fighting off competitors.
Unlike Builders leaders, who create a structure that can stand on its own, the Strategist leadership style requires developing and managing a multiplicity of structures at scale.
The key to success is learning to be more of a conductor and less of a doer, says Janine Davidson, former Under Secretary of the United States Navy and Chief Management Officer for the Navy and Marine Corps where she oversaw a $190 billion budget and 900,000 people.
She views a complex organization as a system of systems. The most effective leadership focuses on leadership development throughout the organization, she says.
What is Good Corporate Leadership?
A Strategist Leader coordinates all of the stakeholders — from the board of directors to the executive team members to partnerships with suppliers and customers — and gets them focused on common goals.
The best way to do that is “to figure out where the motivation points are for people,” says Mhayse Samalya, who was responsible for thousands of employees, 15,000 agents, and $14 billion in revenues as President of Farmers Insurance.
Whether it’s the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Operating Officer, or a newcomer in the leadership training program, everyone across the work environment needs to be motivated to work toward the common goal.
Even small changes matter, Samalya notes. “If you’ve got 10,000 people and their performance moves in the smallest little amount, that smallest amount times 10,000 is enormous.”
Human resource development, both personal and collegial, is the leadership skill most valued by Strategists. Jack Welch famously said that “people development should be a daily event, integrated into every aspect of your regular goings-on.”
A corporate strategy aimed at getting buy-in to the bigger mission requires capturing the hearts of the people. A good Strategist is a leader who knows how to get people engaged, enlisted, and enrolled in a common purpose.
Organization and Team Come First
Samalya likes to mentor his team. His best day is when someone he mentored gets a big promotion—regardless of whether that person still works for his company. He prides himself on having mentored people who have gone on to C-suite leadership roles in other companies, including jobs as President or Chief Executive Officer.
The best business leaders want everyone on the leadership team to have decision-making power to the point that a little bead of sweat forms. Samayla says that when he sees them making better decisions than he could have made, “I just love that. I just know we’re going to keep succeeding.”
The best Strategists have a genuine desire to serve, putting the needs of the organization and team first. They might be in the ultimate leadership position, but they’re also just one member of a successful business operation.
Developing Corporate Leadership Chops
Strategists point to their mentors, a nurturing and career-shaping corporate culture, and the value of leadership development programs as empowering waypoints for increasing opportunities, responsibilities, and leadership success.
The best Strategist leaders have had management training that allowed them to develop skills across different functional areas, from finance to operations to marketing and sales to corporate governance.
In 1985 Shawn Score started as a salesperson at Best Buy when it was just a twelve-store chain. Moving up through the ranks, he went from assistant manager to general manager to district manager to regional manager.
“I think I fell in love with the company after meeting with the founder a few times and getting mentored along the way,” says Score.
As Senior Vice President, he led initiatives ranging from running the sales development department to leading Best Buy’s mobile joint venture and “being groomed at one point to be the CEO.” He realizes that as he took the company through ten major operating model changes and annual cost-cutting efforts involving thousands of people, his own style of leadership was also changing, and it was the execution versus the planning phase that gave him his energy.
The Strategist is a leader who grows over the course of their career into successively larger formal roles and responsibilities in revenue, organizational complexity, and people management.
Does Your Company Need a Strategist?
Companies in need a strong leader to quicken the cadence within a complex organization should look to a Strategist Leader.
Successful Strategists become leadership virtuosos, showing strength as listeners, problem solvers, communicators, collaborators, and motivators. They feel the pulse of the world and their industry, knowing that sitting still amounts to stagnation. They know where to take the company and where to make investments today that will transform the business and position the company to be at the forefront of whatever the industry looks like tomorrow.
Strategists answer to shareholders, internal constituencies, and board members, notching up the pressure to achieve consistent growth.
Even black swan–type, cataclysmic leaps forward in innovation—a Facebook or Google—can become sclerotic, bogged down, and reactionary despite great product, mission, and quick market dominance. Google at twenty-three years old is still primarily one product: search. Search generated 86 percent of revenue in 2019 while employing 75,000 people. It is not the same lean, mean fighting machine it was on launch or IPO.
Who is the Strategist Leader?
Strategists are the lifeblood of complex and large organizations where their uncanny ability to create strong mission and vision drive continual advancement. Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, Satya Nadella at Microsoft, Bob Chapek at Disney, or Fred Smith when he was at FedEx, all exemplify how a leader and company can prove so enduring over such a long span of growth that investors, customers, and team continue to follow knowing they are in good hands.
Strategist leaders set the tone for the organization, and if mission and vision is of the first order, its foundation is built on culture, which synthesizes all the component parts within a complex organization to a steady pulse.
Beyond setting a good example, the Strategist’s ability to entrust and delegate not only creates alignment, but results.
Where Can I Find a Strategist Leader?
If your organization has many moving parts that need to be aligned around a common mission and vision, Strategist executivesvcan be called in to provide expert leadership. InterimExecs RED Team includes CEOs, CFOs, CIO, COOs and CMOs who specialize in stabilizing and aligning a team around a short and long-term vision. Learn more at www.InterimExecs.com.
Think you might be the Strategist Leader your organization needs? Take our free leadership assessment to find out!
You Know You Are a Strategist If . . .
✓ You operate at global scale, leading a complex or large organization.
✓ You sense and set the rhythm, the heartbeat of the organization across teams, divisions, functions, and board.
✓ You enjoy and excel at synthesizing various points of view.
✓ You coordinate and marshal people and resources.
✓ You are tuned into long-term vision.
✓ You know culture is critical and can be shaped.
✓ You turn structure into repeatable, defensible systems.
✓ You are passionate about developing and mentoring people.
✓ You have been functionally cross-trained over a span of years and through various roles.
✓ Your superpower is in setting vision and mission to drive a bigger strategy.
✓ You are wired to serve people and the organization.
✓ You are articulate, strong in communicating ideas and motivating others.
✓ You excel at managing teams, investors, boards, stakeholders, often with diverse agendas.
✓ You are adaptable to many different types of situations.
✓ You were mentored by inspiring predecessors.