Demonstrating strategic leadership in operational leadership roles.

One of the common career challenges leaders face is jumping from Operational leadership roles to Strategic leadership roles.  

Many leaders feel that they deserve to be playing strategic leadership roles, but the current operational roles do not help in developing themselves for such roles, the current organization structure does not give any scope for this or some how my boss thinks I am not yet ready for this.

And the common grouse is – unless I get an opportunity for playing strategic roles, how can I improve my competence in strategic leadership.

Only a few leaders are lucky to be in organizations who recognize this and invest on leaders to help them make this transition, while many leaders miss out on such interventions either because their organizations did not have such practices or it was there, but not applicable to their level in the hierarchy.  

Which implies that leaders themselves will have to develop their Strategic leadership skills in operational roles.

One definition of strategic leadership as per Centre for Creative learning, which I resonate with is – Ability to create long term sustainable competitive advantage.  

I can hear a few readers saying… “Yes, even I resonate, but in my Operational role, this is what I do not get to demonstrate on a day to day basis” .

As per my observation - many operational problems that we deal with everyday in our roles can be a potential for creating long-term sustainable competitive advantage.  By exploring if each operational problem can qualify as a strategic problem.    

Here’s how to do it:  Check if the operational problem that you face today

  • is it one-off or repeated? 
  • is being faced only by you only or other members of your team?
  • is this being faced by other departments as well?
  • does your competitors also face similar problem?
  • Is this a generic industry problem?

Using such questioning to explore an operational problem may present a strategic opportunity.    And for this a strategic solution can be evaluated.

Isn’t this what some of the successful startups do? 

Be it Whatsapp or Paytm or Redbus..  they stumbled on an operational problem and figured out if it is a strategic problem and then came out with an Strategic Solution which they operationalized it.

Put your reflective lenses and explore which Strategic opportunity are you not seeing in your current role.   Spotting it and operationalizing it may help you build your Strategic leadership skills even in your current role.

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