What Great Bosses Know about Leading Strategically

We’re working our way through all five of the resolutions for 2010 that I’ve suggested for aspiring great bosses, with details and tips for each. The first resolution was: double your feedback. If you’ve launched your plan for that, I’m proud of you.

The second resolution is one that I believe can set you apart from the average manager: lead strategically. It doesn’t come easily to some supervisors. Here’s what I mean: Many managers are drawn to working on what’s immediately in front of them. They enjoy overseeing today’s work and solving emerging problems. They fill their hours with what I have long called “the suck of today.”

This is especially true in newsrooms, where putting one’s fingerprints on even a mundane story is so tempting that editors and news directors eagerly let themselves be sucked in. It’s fun to work on things on which you can have an immediate impact and which let you demonstrate your authority and skill, to boot.

But you pay a price and so does your team. While you’re continually sucked into today, you’re not thinking beyond the obvious. You are forever reacting. Your planning extends to things that may come up on the calendar (more of the same, only down the road) or preparing effective approaches to “breaking news.”

Meanwhile, your competitors may be out-thinking you, your audience may be shifting, you aren’t involved in research or development, and because you’re not thinking strategically, you can’t really set priorities because everything is important.

So, for those who want to lead strategically right now, here are six keys to getting there.

  1. Understand the mission of your organization: What’s the promise your organization makes to those it serves? How do you, as a leader, make certain this helps everyone know what they should be doing more of or less of to succeed?
  2. Know your audience: Who is it that you intend to serve? Who is your core customer or audience and why? How do you use that knowledge to keep your staff from trying to be all things to all people, wasting resources and diluting impact?
  3. Be clear on values: What does your organization stand for? What will you or won’t you do to reach your goals? How do you integrate that into decision-making and demonstrate it in everyday interactions?
  4. Get on the balcony: This term, coined by the authors of the book, “Leadership on the Line,” means routinely stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. How do you use that balcony view to question the systems, the interactions, the resources, the assumptions, of things you are involved in and invested in at the floor level? How can you think like an outsider and an insider at the same time?
  5. Envision opportunities: This isn’t just long-range planning. This is a commitment to learning more than ever before about your field and emerging issues, new ways of operating, new products or processes. How can you become a student of the future, looking for ways to take your team into new territory?
  6. Communicate the strategy behind the tactics: Your staff is hungry to know the “why” behind your decisions and priorities and their assignments and roles. When leaders clearly communicate strategic objectives, executing the tactics becomes much easier. The staff isn’t doing things “because you said so” but because “they know so.”

I can hear a few challenges out there — ranging from “I don’t have time to do this and manage the work, too” to “My bosses have never asked me to think or act this way.” I understand your concern and promise to share some helpful advice in today’s podcast: “What Great Bosses Know about Leading Strategically.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or download “What Great Bosses Know” on iTunesU.

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