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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Strategic leadership: the bridge between today and success - part 1

"A vision without a strategy remains an illusion." (Lee Bolman)

One of the recommendations that I probably make most often of all in coaching and also in my podcast "When Leaders Talk" is to be strategic, to go beyond urgencies and last-minute activities, to overcome the comfortable temptation to set goals only in the short term and to plan concretely to realize one's dream, to move toward that vision that we have described in this post as the destination to which a good leader aims.

The word "strategy," which originated in a military context but later entered the common lexicon, can be defined as a coordinated set of actions and decisions designed to achieve one or more specific outcomes. In other words, strategic leadership enables the leader to draw up an action plan or roadmap that guides an organization, group, or individual in achieving their goals. An effective strategy considers available resources, external conditions such as the market environment or social influences, and obstacles or challenges that might arise along the way.

Drawing of a woman in professional attire, working on a business strategy at a digital interactive table. She's using a stylus to draw lines connecting different data points, and there's a holographic projection showing global markets.
Strategy is a plan of action toward achieving a result - Image generated by DALL-E 3

Referring to what I wrote in a previous post in which I described the three pillars of leadership and continuing with the architectural metaphor, strategy is the entablature that rests on the three pillars, with the function of physically connecting the three pillars and increasing the solidity of the structure. Here then, the individual, the destination, and the reference system find practical application precisely in the strategy.

As always, I want to go beyond the philosophical concept and provide you with some useful recommendations that you can use to define your strategy. If what I write in this and future posts may seem like overkill, there are a few points to be made:

  • Being a leader is not an easy job. There is a reason that those who achieve success are few.

  • It may seem complex at first, but all it takes is a little practice and some of the steps will become quick.

  • Getting out of your comfort zone is always a great exercise in learning new things. If we were to stop at every difficulty, we would never improve.

  • If you think I can help you, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will be glad to support you.

The first step: understanding the situation

Only one thing can transform you, can effect change, and that is awareness. (Osho)

I will never tire of saying this. The first step is always awareness and especially self-awareness. Although the latter is a priority aspect, I will not elaborate further because, if you want, you can explore it here.

In designing a strategy, it is necessary to understand the "what" and the "therefore" of the moment we are in, trying to look at our life with a multidimensional approach: work and career, family and private life, and our physical and mental state. This initial phase involves a detailed assessment of internal resources, competencies, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. Factors such as market environment, competition, organizational culture, and group dynamics must also be assessed.

In the absence of hard data, it is important to make assessments and assumptions that can help in analyzing the situation. For example, we may need to make assumptions about how technology might evolve and help (or hinder) our strategy.

There are three particular aspects we need to pay attention to:

  • Our biases and preconceptions could negatively influence the entire process. For this reason, confrontation with other people--even better if external to our team or with a different background than our own--can definitely help avoid the trap. Alternatively, one can try to stick as closely as possible to quantitative data analysis and be aware of one's own biases.

  • The tangible and intangible constraints to which we are subject and within which we can move, such as the legal and regulatory framework, ethical aspects, organizational values and culture, existing mandatory processes, etc.

  • The interests at stake, i.e., how much the intended goal might impact us, our team, or the organization in which we work.

Understanding the current situation in depth allows us to identify realistic goals (see next section) and formulate strategies to achieve them. This is an iterative process that may require the use of quantitative and qualitative data, feedback from team members and other stakeholders, and critical assessment of potential challenges and opportunities. Only with a clear and comprehensive understanding of the situation can a strategy be developed that is realistic and effective.

A simple method is the so-called SWOT analysis that helps to assess the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a project. The goal of the SWOT is to provide a comprehensive overview to enable informed decision-making. In detail:

  • Strengths: these are the skills, resources, competitive advantages, and all other elements that give an advantage.

  • Weaknesses: these are the factors that might hinder the achievement of the desired outcome, such as limitations in resources, gaps in skills, or aspects that make one less competitive.

  • Opportunities: sometimes external circumstances, although constantly changing, can be used to our advantage, such as a favorable regulatory change.

  • Threats: these are the external and internal factors that could put the project at risk. For example, competition or even simply difficult relationships within a team.

SWOT analysis is often represented in a 2x2 matrix, which makes it easy to visualize how the various components relate to each other and to prioritize them. You can find more information on how to use SWOT analysis in this Investopedia article.

Defining the result

Beginning with the end in mind means starting with a clear understanding of our destination. It means knowing where we are headed so that we better understand where we are now and ensure that the steps we take are always in the right direction. (Stephen Covey)

To begin a journey without knowing what the destination is like being carried away by events, dragged by the elements, and accepting, in a passive way, what life holds in store for us.

Every leader has a responsibility to envision a better future for us and others.

But how do we do this? It involves deciding what our destination is and the intermediate steps to get there.

Charting the course to the destination requires a layered approach based on three key aspects:

  • Vision: your dream, the future you want to create that inspires and guides you.

  • Goals: Specific and measurable intermediate milestones on your journey that help you monitor your progress and stay focused.

  • Objectives: Milestones that keep you on track, short-term, and actionable. They serve to break down goals into manageable steps.

Let's use a metaphor I love. Imagine you are the captain of a ship.

Your vision is the final destination, the port you want to reach. The goals are the various routes you need to follow to get there. The objectives are the checkpoints along the way, where you evaluate the journey and make sure you are on course.

For a strategy to be successful, all these elements must be aligned and synchronized.

Remember that a vision without goals and objectives is like getting carried away by events. Goals and objectives without a vision are like wandering aimlessly.

If you would like to learn more, you can access this post.

It doesn't end there

The path to effective leadership is like navigating a sea full of opportunities and challenges. Today we laid the groundwork for understanding the importance of strategy in realizing your vision. But how do we put this into practice? What does it take to direct toward our goal, face obstacles, and take advantage of opportunities along the way?

These are the topics we will cover next week, delving into other key aspects, and providing concrete examples and practical suggestions for defining and implementing your leadership strategy.

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