02 February, 2017

Strategic Leadership - The ability to win the dogfight

Strategic Leadership - The ability to win the dogfight

Photo Credit: jeffliebig

Welcome along to this new series that we are calling, ‘Leaders Eat Last’. (Read here https://paulmead.com.au/blog/why-leaders-eat-last/ to find out more about why I use this saying).

Using the Seven Skills of Successful Leaders from the Australian Institute of Management, we will be exploring each skill and providing some practical application. Leadership is not restricted to sport or business, but rather something that is built, refined and needed in both.

This blog series will be supplemented in ‘My Academy of Sport’ with more in depth resources and videos with influential leaders from our community.

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Tactical vs Strategic Leadership

The ability of a leader to set strategy is fundamental to their success as a leader. Many leaders have great tactical leadership – this being where they can lead the operations of the organisation at a grassroots level and inspiring action with those around them to achieve a task. But strategic leadership is different. Strategic leadership is just as much an art form as it is organisational knowledge and experience.

Strategic leadership is needed to guide the organisation and its people through a period of transformation. This transformation might be in the face of declining sales or increased competition in the market, or new opportunities in the market opening up for the organisation to chase. But statistics show that fewer than 10% of leaders exhibit strategic skills - those skills required to transform organisations.

It is the many problems that organisations face on a daily basis that the tactical leader handles with precision - meeting short term reporting figures and showing immediate wins. But organisational success requires vision, long-term thinking and planning to ensure that the thinking and positioning of the organisation today meets the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

So, whilst having a strategic plan is one step, at the end of the day it is just a plan on a piece of paper. The strategic leader needs to be able to turn this plan into action, understanding how it is to be used in the current environment, and bring the rest of the organisation along with them. The strategic leader needs to grab the tactical leaders, making sure that their short-term operational focus builds towards the long-term strategic vision.

The OODA Loop

Colonel John Boyd, a US Air Force Fighter Pilot introduced a concept in the 1950’s called the OODA Loop. Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act. 

Strategic Leadership - The ability to win the dogfight

Col. J. Boyd. Credit: Wikipedia

Col. Boyd noted in the Korean War that, despite the US aircraft being less maneuverable than the Russian-made MIG’s, they were winning the majority of the dogfights. Part of the reason was that the US F-86’s had a better field of vision and hydraulic controls that enabled faster maneuverability. This ability to observe and then orientate themselves faster meant they could disrupt their enemies’ actions. He emphasised to his pilots the need to observe and orientate faster than their enemy in order to make superior decisions that ultimately would save their lives.

Applying the OODA Loop

This concept of the OODA loop can be directly applied to the process that exceptional strategic leaders display.

Observe - The strategic leader is constantly observing the environment in which they operate. They can identify what is a risk to their organisation and where there are opportunities they can take advantage of.

Orientate – The strategic leader orientates their organisation into a position to either mitigate the risk or take advantage of the opportunity.

This ability to orientate the organisation should not be underestimated. This is where the strategic leader earns their title. A failure to correctly orientate will spell disaster in the next two stages.

Decide – The strategic leader is decisive in their decisions. They know when they have enough information and when the timing is right to take action. They decide on a course of action and launch into it with full force.

Act – The strategic leader acts at the right time, always. Their action is well planned, and they have contingencies in place for when the situation changes. Success is likely, rather than as a consequence of luck.

Strategic leaders know that the ability to orientate organisations takes more than charisma. It takes the ability to clearly communicate the need to implement change or transform a business process through a clear vision. This vision is built upon observation that is rooted in research, analysis, experience and gut feelings.

When it comes time to make the decision, the strategic leader has motivated their team to adopt the vision as their own, knowing that the challenge that is to ensue has the odds stacked clearly in their favour. The strategic leader knows that their tactical leaders have the information they require to influence, lead and win their dogfights, contributing to the greater challenge.

This is the art of strategic leadership, one dogfight at a time. 

© 2019 Paul Mead