A systems perspective to leadership and strategy

November 25, 2016 by ahmed

Originally posted on Blogrige by Harry Hertz

I recently read a summary of an interview with Wharton Professors Harbir Singh and Mike Useem. The interview relates to their new book, The strategic leaders roadmap. In the book they contend that successful senior executives must be capable of integrating strategic thinking with strong leadership skills.Leaders who adopt the Baldrige excellence framework have already successfully addressed this integrative need because of the questions in the Leadership and Strategy categories of the Baldrige criteria. Indeed, the key considerations that Singh and Useem outline are contained in item 1.1 on Senior Leadership and item 2.1 on Strategy Development and are systemically interrelated in the criteria.

Here are the key points I gleaned from the interview and how they relate to the relevant Baldrige criteria:

  • Leaders must inspire the workforce, and must also deliver strategic inspiration and discipline: The Baldrige criteria (item 1.1) ask how senior leaders create a focus on action that will achieve innovation and intelligent risk taking, and attain the organization’s vision. Item 2.1 asks how the organization seeks out potential blind spots in its strategy to avoid a senior leader’s bias or potential lack of realization that there is a changing external or competitive environment. Such bias may cause a disciplined approach to a poor strategy.
  • Leaders may be good at strategic thinking, but thin on making things happen, driving strategy and change through the organization: This is the very reason that starting with the Baldrige excellence builder, the criteria ask (item 1.1) how senior leaders set an overall focus on action and, in specific, in item 2.1 ask about the ability to execute the strategic plan and to achieve transformational change.
  • Leaders must realize that execution is not just about the workforce following orders, but that it is about creating and enhancing the value proposition to the client and getting ideas from the entire workforce: In item 1.1, customers and the workforce receive significant attention. At the Excellence builder level the criteria ask: “How do senior leaders communicate with and engage the entire workforce and key customers?” In the more detailed Baldrige criteria there are questions about senior leaders’ two-way communication with the workforce, and their actions to reinforce a customer focus, foster customer engagement, and create customer value.
  • Leaders must balance quarterly results with setting the tone of an ethical climate and a policy of integrity first: Here too, item 1.1 of the Baldrige criteria sends a clear message by asking how senior leaders’ actions demonstrate their commitment to ethical behavior and how they promote an organizational environment that requires it.
  • Leaders must create agility and adaptability in the organization: Item 2.1 specifically asks how the strategic planning process addresses the potential need for organizational agility and operational flexibility.

While I have given some very specific examples from the Baldrige criteria, these are just examples. The systems perspective of Baldrige means these topics are addressed at appropriate places throughout all seven categories of the criteria to cause linkages wherever valuable.

Professors Singh and Useem summarize their treatise by saying that senior leaders must be strategic in thought and lead well. I would assert that you can simply operationalize this unified concept (and more) by following the advice given in items 1.1 and 2.1 of the Baldrige criteria. And in the process, gain a systems perspective of all that is important in leadership and strategy.

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