Strategic Leadership

Mission, vision, values, goals, objectives, and strategic planning are just some of the leadership buzzwords of the late 20th Century. Virtually all professional executives have attempted to understand what all the buzzwords mean and make them a reality. Few have succeeded and most continue to search for what bridges the gap between leadership theory and leadership reality. That bridge may well be the new buzzwords for the 21st Century. They are “Strategic Leadership”.

Strategic Leadership is a process that is simple in its basic form, easily applied, and has the potential of yielding significant results. Leading strategically means having a comprehensive strategy for the immediate future. Unlike strategic planning, which is long term for the whole organization, Strategic Leadership is short term designed for the executive and staff.
Since September 11th, “doing more with less” has been the theme of many organizational budgets. With the economic instability, stock market uncertainty, the war on terrorism, and additional military conflicts on the horizon, many organizational priorities have changed. Many organizations are just trying to survive, as budgets have not increased or, worse yet, some have decreased. As a result, leaders are again called upon to be creative as they strive to accomplish their goals. Having to accomplish more than the available resources will allow, many leaders will be forced to try and accomplish more by doing more. Strategic Leadership offers the professional executive the solution too not only accomplishing more with less but by doing less.

“This short passage describes how an early CEO, CFO, HR Director (Moses) is being overwhelmed while leading the children of Israel toward the Promised Land. Help arrives one day in the person of Jethro, the Priest of Midian (who also happens to be Moses’ father-in-law). After a few days of observing Moses in action, Jethro takes him aside to offer some friendly advice. The following is a very loose translation of the conversation between what may well be the first management consultant-client relationship in recorded history.

Jethro: “Moses, your doing it all wrong! You’re wearing yourself out, as well as your people, by trying to do to much.” (i.e. accomplish more by doing more?)

Moses: “You may be right. I’m putting in very long hours and working harder and harder; but what else can I do? My people expect a lot from me, and I don’t want to let them down!”

Jethro: “Here is a better way to get the job done: Select some trusted subordinates, and instruct them to deal with all but the most important issues your people bring to them for judgment. In that way you may actually accomplish more for your people than you can by trying to do everything yourself.” (i.e. accomplish more by doing less?)

Exodus 18:24-27 picks up the story:

So Moses gave heed to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he said. Moses chose able men out of all of Israel, and made them heads over the people; rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but all the small matters they decided themselves. Then Moses let his father-in-law depart… to his own country.” (Lasagna)

Moses took the first of several steps required to implement Strategic Leadership. Strategic Leadership, similar in some respects to strategic planning, is about action, not just a written document that all to often sits on a shelf or in a drawer and is very rarely reviewed. Strategic Leadership is a daily process that should be reviewed at staff meetings. Effective Strategic Leadership is a fluid, dynamic process that requires constant vigilance. Integral to the success of Strategic Leadership is the P.O.L.I.C.E. Leadership Methodology:

P: Planning

O: Organizing

L: Liability/accountability

I: Information/communication

C: Control/accountability

E: Ethics/integrity

The P.O.L.I.C.E. Leadership Methodology ensures that the Strategic Leadership process is grounded on a foundation of accountability. With all of the scandals surrounding CEO’s of both public and private organizations, accountability to all stakeholders has come to the forefront and should make Strategic Leadership very attractive to the professional executive.

Like Moses, the professional executive must take that first step and come to the conclusion that there has to be a better way to accomplish the mission of the organization. The implementation of Strategic Leadership requires an introspective assessment of the programs, goals, and tasks of the organization. Many executives are biased in their assessment, which can degrade the effectiveness of Strategic Leadership. An outside review offers the best, unbiased assessment, to make educated decisions from.

In the second step, the executive is introduced to strategic thinking. “Strategic thinking means asking, Are we doing the right thing? Perhaps, more precisely, it means making that assessment using three key requirements about strategic thinking: a definite purpose be in mind; an understanding of the environment, particularly of the forces that affect or impede the fulfillment of that purpose; and creativity in developing effective responses to those forces.” (Bryson) In assessing those forces that can affect or impede the success, the executive and staff will determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (S.W.O.T.) to each strategy. In particular, the executive must be cognizant of the budgetary restraints and political implications (threats) to certain strategies and initiatives. The executive will participate in the “I want” brainstorming session. Every executive in every organization has a vision of what they want to accomplish. Some are more realistic than others. “Fewer have a clear, succinct, and useful vision of success.” (Bryson) Sadly, many of their “I want” to accomplish will not come to fruition. Not because their goals are unrealistic but because so many executives are bogged down with the minutia of leadership (Moses) and can’t get many of the important (critical) things done.

During this session the executive is tasked to list the “I want” to accomplish for himself and the staff within the next year. The executive is encouraged to “shotgun” his ideas for the organization regardless of how unrealistic they may be. At this point, Pareto’s 80/20 Rule is introduced. Count Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who observed that 20% of his fellow countrymen owned 80% of the country’s wealth. He concluded that their success was dependent upon focusing on the critical few (20%) and they did not waste valuable time on the trivial many (80%). “The Rule and Its Corollary: Pareto’s rule states that a small number of causes is responsible for a large percentage of the effect, in a ratio of about 20:80. Expressed in a management context, 20% of a person’s effort generates 80% of the person’s results. The corollary to this is that 20% of one’s results absorb 80% of one’s resources or efforts. For the effective use of resources, the manager’s challenge is to distinguish the right 20% from the trivial many.” (Hafner) “The leader of an organization must remember that 80% of his problems come from 20% of the workforce; when 80% of your events are not within your control, focus on the 20% you can do something about. Utilizing the 80/20 Rule in tandem with strategic thinking, the executive determines what are the critical few (20%) on the list that he will need to concentrate on. The number of critical few will vary depending on the size of the organization. In addition, the P.O.L.I.C.E. Leadership Methodology is introduced into the process. A major component to the success of Strategic Leadership is the accountability factor. When the critical few and trivial many are established, then who is accountable for the achieving these goals, along with a reasonable timetable, is established.

In the third step, the facilitator will hold a meeting with the executive and the staff. The facilitator will explain Strategic Leadership, the 80/20 Rule, and S.W.O.T. to the staff. The executive will outline his critical few and a roundtable discussion should take place. All of the interactive sessions are informal and directed at achieving consensus through teamwork. All participants will discuss the pros and cons of the critical few. The end result, with the input of the staff, may be that some of the critical few are not feasible. Once a consensus has been reached, the executive will be assigned the task of writing out a strategy (plan) for accomplishing the critical few assigned to him.

In the fourth step, the facilitator will meet individually with each member of the staff. This is the “I will” accomplish development session. “I will” is an action statement. It is not, “I might, maybe, I think so, or I probably can.” The staff member will review each of the critical few that he is assigned and during discussion with the facilitator come up with a strategy (plan) to accomplish the goal. Staff members are not only responsible for their “I will” statement. They are encouraged to be future thinkers and empowered to state what they want to accomplish during the next year. The staff member will be assigned the task of writing out a strategy, and timetable for accomplishing the assigned tasks and the tasks they see as significant to their area of responsibility for the next year. Staff members will have the opportunity to discuss their strategies with the executive.

In the fifth step, the facilitator will meet with the each staff member with the executive present. During this session, the executive and the staff member will review each strategy that the staff member has designed. The facilitator will assist the executive and staff member in reaching a consensus as to the feasibility for success of the strategy and the timetable required. As in the previous steps, the executive and the staff member will review each strategy determining the S.W.O.T. for each.

In the sixth step, the facilitator will meet with all the participants to briefly review all the “I want” and “I will” strategies that the executive and staff have developed. A brief overview of the strategies and any final questions should be answered. Each participant needs to bring his or her calendar to establish follow-up dates. The facilitator will take a copy of the “I want” and “I will” document from the executive and staff. The facilitator will draft a final document outlining the tasks and the strategies to fulfill these tasks. Included in the document will be who is responsible for the task, when it is to be completed, the follow-up date, and whether the strategy has a budgetary impact. The final document will be distributed to all of the participants and the governing body. After all, the executive in most organizations is accountable to someone, be it a chairman, governing board, or governmental body.

Strategic Leadership is not a panacea but a tool for the professional executive that wants to be more effective by doing less. Although the strategies for completing the tasks have been established, there is always the unknown. Executives are plagued with incessant time restraints as well as depleted budgets. September 11th taught us a valuable lesson about strategies and planning. Nothing is cast in stone and the professional executive must be flexible and consider contingencies.


Leaders are experiencing depletion in resources but are expected to accomplish great things. This expectation is nothing new. Moses walked the walk, talked the talk, but was still lost and inundated with the daily minutia of leadership. It’s not until the professional executive comes to the conclusion that he cannot accomplish more simply by doing more, but by thinking strategically. At this point Strategic Leadership becomes a viable solution for both the public and private organization.

The implantation process has numerous steps, during which the participants learn about the 80/20 Rule, S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), and the P.O.L.I.C.E. Leadership Methodology in which the process is well Planned; is Organized; the Liability in the decision making process has been assessed; there has been accurate dissemination of Information; Control/accountability measures are in place; and Ethics, “Are we doing what is right?” has been set as the standard for all strategies.

Strategic Leadership is not a panacea for all the woes of leadership but a useful tool. Strategic Leadership is a daily process, not a long-range plan, and requires constant vigilance. Strategic Leadership offers the professional executive the opportunity to successfully accomplish his goals with the resources available and without over-investing his time and energies. Strategic Leadership may very well be the new leadership model for the 21st Century.

John Lasagna, “Accomplish More by Doing Less”, JBL Associates, p.1

John Bryson, “ Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations”, A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement, (Jossey-Bass, 1995)

Arthur Hafner, Ph.D., “Pareto’s Principle: The 80:20 Rule, Seton Hall University, ([])

Michael A. Keller has been in the public safety profession since 1973 attaining the position of Chief of Police & Director of Public Safety. He is the CEO of the Keller Consulting Group, Government Consulting Services, [] . He has consulted with police agencies on issues involving Police Management and Planning, Leadership, Employee Discipline, Internal Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and investigations regarding the Sexual Exploitation of Children. He is a member of Team ADAM & Project ALERT with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Police Administration, is a graduate of the Leadership Command College, and a graduate of the FBI National Academy 176th Session. He has written numerous articles on Leadership and Policing for various publications. He has extensive media experience and has been a guest on ABC’s “Good Morning America”, CBS’s “Today Show” and CNN “Larry King Live”. He lives on the coast of Texas and is an avid saltwater fisherman.

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