More respect. More say in company decisions. A seat at the executive conference table.
These are the things most managers, department heads and team leads want. At the same time, C-suite executives want their leaders to be more strategic and proactive.
Here are six actionable ways you can increase your strategic leadership skills AND impact on your organization.
1. Promote the value of your team—and bring the receipts
C-level executives must focus on the big picture and tend to measure success in hard numbers. This makes demonstrating your value a challenge if the C-suite sees your work as a necessary operating expense, like accounting or HR, or a nebulous concept, like marketing. But, this is not an insurmountable challenge.
Prove your team’s value by communicating like a CEO. Measure return on investment and use it in your discussions. Report the progress of key performance indicators (KPIs). Give the higher-ups measurable numbers to track regarding productivity and performance.
2. Discover and bring forward opportunities for improvement
Strategic leaders are proactive, not reactive. They anticipate more and react less. Sticking with the status quo shows a lack of leadership initiative.
What can you do to improve your team and the organization as a whole? Is there a new software program that would make your work more efficient? Is there a continuing education course that would increase your employees’ value or even expand the services you can offer?
There are many inexpensive and even free ways you can keep on top of industry trends and glean new ideas:
- Network with others in your profession and in your local business community.
- Join a professional association.
- Attend conferences, lunch and learns, seminars and webinars.
- Ask your employees for their ideas. As the people “on the ground” with clients and customers, you can bet they have many ideas for improvement!
- Subscribe to online and print publications.
- Follow influential leaders in your space on social media.
When selling an idea to the C-suite, remember the data. How much time and money is this new program projected to save? What is the projected revenue from adding a new service?
3. Manage your team, manage your reputation
The people you lead are a direct reflection of your leadership ability. In managing your team, you are also managing your own reputation.
- If poor performance is continually allowed, you may be viewed as weak and ineffective.
- If your people are always stressed and burned out, you may be viewed as not having their back.
- If your people are poorly trained and scattered, that will reflect on your own knowledge and ability.
- If your team is spiritless and has low energy, you may be seen as not having the motivational qualities of a great leader.
- If you consistently hire or promote people who aren’t up for the job, you may be seen as a poor judge of character and ability.
None of these are impressions you want going before you to the C-suite.
While you may have your sights set on an executive position with less day-to-day people management, the way you lead now is what will help get you there. Be a good boss. Do your part to build a productive, engaging company culture, starting with your team.
4. Speak the language of leadership
“I was just thinking that if we…”
“If you think it’s a good idea maybe we could…”
“It would probably be good to think about doing…”
This kind of equivocal language—whether spoken or written—won’t get you far in the C-suite. While it may be an attempt to sound collaborative, in an executive setting it can be perceived as a lack of confidence and decisiveness.
Learn to speak with authority, authenticity, candor and confidence. That doesn’t mean you need to dominate a conversation, always be right or always have an answer right away. It does mean that you need to communicate in a way that is clear and forthright. It means that you need to come with solutions, not problems or vague concepts.
Every leader can improve their communication skills, and there is no lack of resources to help you do it.
- Pay close attention to how the executives at your organization communicate. Listen and absorb.
- Read articles and watch online tutorials on effective communication.
- Take a workshop or class on business leadership communication.
- Enroll in a professional etiquette course.
- Take a public speaking class. If you can speak confidently and persuasively in front of a group, you can do it at the executive table!
By speaking the language of leadership, you’ll gain rapport with executives and the confidence and decisiveness that characterizes strong leaders. Using strategic communication will cause you to think and act more strategically, too.
5. Develop goals with a purpose
Ask most people what makes a leader, and they’ll say “someone with goals and vision.”
What is the purpose of your team—to your clients, to your organization, to your community…even to the world? What can you do in the future to increase that positive impact?
In developing your goals, remember that some of them should be measurable and quantifiable. You want to show RESULTS.
6. Set priorities and stick to them
For busy managers and team leaders who have to do more with less, this will be the most difficult item on the list.
In our fast-paced society, multitasking is too often seen as a badge of honor. The truth is, constant multitasking is a symptom of an unproductive and unfocused person. Clarity and focus are the signs of a strategic leader. You cannot achieve the goals you set if you’re always taking orders and putting out fires.
How can you rise above the day-to-day chaos? Start by setting three to five high-priority projects, with deadlines, and discipline yourself to work with purpose to complete them.
What if the challenge isn’t self-discipline, but one of time, resources and workload?
- Ask yourself honestly: Do you have to do it all, or is there someone who could take a few tasks off your plate? Delegate and leave it be.
- If there isn’t a team member or employee who can take on these tasks, can you train them?
- If you can’t trust anyone to take on some of your work, it’s time to ask some hard questions about why. Is it a matter of trust in your team? Of ability? Of insecurity on your part about letting go?
- Are there processes (or lack thereof) that are making things harder than they should be? What can you propose to improve them?
- Are there other solutions that would eliminate some of your busywork, like outsourcing, software or automation? When proposing these ideas to senior leadership, remember Tip 1—demonstrate how your idea will measurably improve productivity and the bottom line.
This isn’t easy, and will take time. But the results—making you a more strategic and effective leader—are well worth it.
Looking for more about leadership?
Our Great Ideas blog has plenty of articles on promoting company culture, hiring and talent development, improving communication, building employee relationships and more.