Are You an Operational or Strategic Leader?

As leaders, it’s easy to concentrate on what’s right in front of us. We usually have a lot on our plate that needs attention now—looming deadlines, immediate problems, guiding our team, etc.

But if we get too bogged down in the here-and-now, we don’t have time to consider the bigger picture, accelerate results, or be truly innovative. In short, we are functioning as operational leaders and not strategic leaders.

Operational Leaders

As suggested above, operational leaders typically work within a short-term focus:

  • They take care of what needs to happen now—or in the next month, or even in the next 90 days.

  • They are focused on their surroundings—on their own team, their own department, and relationships within their immediate circle.

Functioning operationally isn’t necessarily a bad thing - you’re solving problems, you’re addressing pertinent issues, you’re getting work done. However, you’re doing so within a narrow scope, and considering only a small window of time.

In this way, operational leaders are typically just getting by. They’re managing change, but not driving it. They may experience innovation, but only incrementally—small steps forward when they could be much larger. In order to actually accelerate results and progress from a mid-level leader to a more senior leader, they need to shift their style to be more strategic.

How is a Strategic Leader Different?

  • They think long-term. They have a broader perspective. They are able to see trends and patterns. They make connections between different data points and different areas of the industry. They are literally more strategic in their thinking.

  • They take an organizational focus. Rather than just looking to their team, department, and immediate circle, strategic leaders are connected with people across their organization and across the larger industry.

  • They are proactive, not reactive. Strategic leaders respond to issues beyond those that are right in front of them. They get ahead of the curve. They don’t just manage change; they’re its source.

  • They experience exponential innovation and accelerate results. They leave those small, incremental steps behind.

So, what kind of leader are you—operational or strategic? And what kind do you want to be?

If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, check out Uplevel Studio’s Building Strategic Leadership online course.

Weekly Uplevel Practice

Identify three areas in which you are functioning as an operational leader, and not a strategic one.

Remember what you come up with, because we’ll be returning to those areas in our next newsletter when we discuss how to make that shift from an operational to a strategic leader.



Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash