Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

The Strategic Leadership Competencies


The Strategic Leadership Competencies

The study of leader traits has a long and controversial history. Some researches show that the possession of certain traits alone does not guarantee strategic leadership success; there is evidence that effective leaders are different from other people in certain key respects. Key leader traits include: drive (a broad term which includes achievements, motivation, ambition, energy, tenacity, and initiative); leadership motivation (the desire to lead but not to seek power as an end in itself); honesty and integrity; self-confidence (which is associated with emotional stability); cognitive ability; and knowledge of the business. There is less clear evidence for traits such as charisma, creativity and flexibility. We believe that the key leader traits help the leader acquire necessary skills; formulate an organizational vision and an effective plan for pursuing it; and take the necessary steps to implement the vision in reality.
The search for strategic leader competencies is a natural progression of the research in the field of leadership. Some social science researchers began to question whether leadership actually made a difference in organizations while others suggested that perhaps the study of leadership had reached its culminating point. Rather than disappearing, however, the study of leadership took on new energy with an emphasis on leadership of organizations, rather than the traditional leadership approaches that focused on face-to-face interaction at lower levels. Studies of transformational leadership, organizational culture, visionary leadership, organizational change, and charismatic leaders reinvigorated the Field of leadership. Thus, the notion of strategic leadership was introduced.
The most recent literature distills strategic leadership to a few key skills and competencies or a process. For example, experts state that strategic leaders have three basic functions: path-finding, aligning, empowering and Path-finding deals with tying the organization’s value system and environment, and learn how to sustain strengths and correct weaknesses. Thus, adaptability is an important trait for leader which means the ability to recognize changes to the environment, to determine what is new, what must be learned to be effective, and includes the learning process that follows that determination. In addition, it is also added in a world of uncertainty and doubt, leaders must focus on certain properties. Two of those properties are improvisation and lightness Improvisation involves the flexible treatment of preplanned material. It is not about making something out of nothing. Instead, it is about making something out of previous experience, practice, and knowledge. Improvisation is something that is almost intuitive to good leaders at the tactical level, but seldom is addressed at the strategic Level.
The term of lightness refers to the ability to drop heavy tools that are no longer useful. This analogy is the foreman who yells, “drop your tools,” to wild land firefighters who are trying to outrun an exploding fire. Firefighters who refuse to drop heavy tools such as chainsaws are prone to be overtaken by the fire and perish. To strategic leaders, the now-unwieldy tools are those that presume the world is stable, knowable, and predictable. Future strategic leaders must be able to drop outmoded perspectives, methods, or assumptions in a world of uncertainty.
In the review of strategic leadership, the experts distill the essence of strategic leadership to three factors—effective strategic leaders must create and maintain absorptive and adaptive capacity in addition to obtaining managerial wisdom. Absorptive capacity involves the ability to learn by recognizing new information, assimilating it, and applying it. Adaptive capacity involves the ability to change due to variations in conditions. Managerial wisdom consists of discernment and intuition. And absorptive and adaptive capacities are required at the strategic level of leadership is very similar.
Looking across the existing literature on strategic leadership, the current lists of strategic leader competencies, and the future environment of the six metacompetencies can be derived: identity, mental agility, cross-cultural savvy, interpersonal maturity, world-class warrior, and professional astuteness. Before addressing each metacompetency, it should be noted that concentrating on just six does provide focus, but there are some associated disadvantages. First, some skills and abilities are not explicitly described by a metacompetency label. For example, strategic leaders need to be politically savvy—knowing when to compromise, understanding that many strategic decisions are not black and white, and knowing what is best in the long run for the Nation. This ability is captured in the professional astuteness metacompetency Identity also includes an understanding of one’s values and how they match the values. Identity implies maturation beyond self-awareness as come to understand who they are, not just how well they do things.

To summarize, the strategic leadership literature is replete with long lists of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by strategic leaders of the future. Unfortunately, long comprehensive lists are problematic. At the individual level, it is difficult to assess one’s leadership ability when the lists suggest that a strategic leader must “Be, Know, and Do” just about everything. At the institutional level, the long lists make it difficult to focus an institution’s attention and resources on leader development when the desired end state is so broad. Hence, the task of identifying the competencies of future strategic leaders becomes one of reducing the lists to a few metacompetencies that will prove useful in directing leader development efforts in the process of producing leaders with strategic leader capability, and facilitating self-assessment strategic leader capability. Looking across the existing literature on strategic leadership, the current lists of strategic leader competencies, and the future environment six metacompetencies can be derived: identity, mental agility, cross-cultural savvy, interpersonal maturity, world-class warrior, and professional astuteness. These metacompetencies describe the strategic leadership necessary for the future nation.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@ gmail.com

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