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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Strategic leadership: the bridge between today and success - part 2

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Strategy is making choices, compromises; it is deliberately choosing to be different." Michael Porte

With this post, I want to continue the discussion on strategic leadership that I started last week. If you have not had a chance to read it, here is the link. We introduced two basic steps: understanding the situation and setting goals to achieve.


After completing these two steps, it is time to examine the tools we have at our disposal. In other words, we must address the question, "By what means do we intend to achieve our goals?"


Visual representation of leadership and collaboration through concentric circles. In the center circle is an individual, a symbol of leadership. The next circle shows five people of different genders and backgrounds working together. The third circle shows 4 different teams of five individuals each, all engaged in their tasks, with a visible building. The largest circle represents a bustling city with multiple buildings, vehicles and pedestrians. The colors are bright and vibrant.
There are four levels of tools or means that a leader can use - Image created by DALL-E

The leader's means: a four-level view

There are four levels of means that a leader can use:

  • the personal level: each individual brings a set of skills, knowledge, and abilities that can be harnessed in a strategic approach to leadership. I am referring to the personal characteristics of a leader and all team members taken individually. In other words, it is the set of soft skills (effective communication, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, teamwork, adaptability, etc.) and hard skills (various competencies) that each person has that go into what I consider the "first pillar of leadership": self-knowledge. Again, so as not to burden this discussion, if you feel like elaborating, you can refer to the post available at this link.


  • The team level: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." This ancient African saying embodies the quintessence of team collaboration. Leaders know that a team is more than a group of individuals put together; it is a dynamic entity that has the potential to accomplish more than just the sum of its members. Each team has its own characteristics and dynamics that can both facilitate and hinder the achievement of goals. Understanding how people work best together and what the potential friction points are is critical to optimizing the productivity and motivation of members. Soft skills and hard skills can also be identified in a team. The first category includes elements such as effective communication, cohesion, collective intelligence, adaptability, team culture, etc. Hard skills in a team, on the other hand, can include a clear organizational structure, technical skills, established processes and procedures, available tools and technologies, and evaluation metrics (KPIs).


  • The organizational level: this level concerns the tools, structure, culture, values, and policies of the organization within which the team operates. Even the most effective organization may not achieve the desired results if it is embedded in an organizational environment that does not support its initiatives. A leader must therefore have the ability to navigate the organizational environment, identify how other parts of the same organization build positive relationships with other parts of the organization, and ensure that the team has the resources and support it needs to succeed. In this case, hard and soft skills are the same as those analyzed at the team level, obviously amplified to the entire organization.


  • The external level: Finally, we cannot forget the sphere beyond the organization itself, which includes stakeholders, customers, personalities, the media, research and educational institutions, partners, government agencies, international bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and the communities our organization deals with. Access to this level is a further extension of our potential to use means that, although not organic, might have a function in our strategy. To give a concrete example, consider a startup in the green technology sector that aims to reduce the environmental impact of energy. This organization is in a community that is very sensitive to environmental issues and wishes to use this position to its advantage. The startup CEO could then actively engage in community forums, discussing the importance of green solutions and how his organization can help achieve this common goal. Through networking, the startup could form a partnership with local nonprofit organizations that are similarly committed to promoting sustainability. In addition, using its expertise in marketing and fundraising, the startup could launch a community-supported crowdfunding campaign and use data to demonstrate its positive impact, providing detailed reports to the community itself and possible investors.


A proportionate approach

Access to higher levels is obviously proportionate to the outcome the leader has in mind. In many situations, the capabilities of individuals and the team may suffice without access to organizational or external capabilities. Imagine a small team of developers within a large technology company. The team's goal is to improve a specific feature of a mobile app. The team leader, knowing that the project is well-circumscribed and does not require a complex approach, decides to focus primarily on the team's internal skills.


Personal Level:

  • Soft Skills: The leader uses his or her emotional intelligence to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member and assigns tasks accordingly.

  • Hard Skills: The team already has all the technical skills needed to complete the project, from programming to UX (User Experience) design.

Team Level:

  • Soft Skills: The team's collective intelligence is used to solve problems and overcome challenges, and cohesion is high.

  • Hard Skills: The team's organizational structure is clear and software development processes are well established.


In this case, the leader knows that the team's resources are sufficient to achieve the goal without having to resort to the organizational level (e.g., without having to ask for additional resources or specialized tools) or the external level (without having to seek partnerships with external entities).


This example demonstrates how understanding the different "tool levels" available can guide a leader in choosing the most effective and efficient strategy to achieve goals.


Elements to consider:

In defining our means and tools, we must refer to the tangible and intangible elements that underlie our organization. This category includes factors such as, for example, human resources, technological capabilities and innovative drive, organizational culture and structure, infrastructure, infostructures, finances, and even the location where our organization operates. All of these elements can contribute in one way or another to our strategy. In the example given above, the location of the start-up within an already environmentally inclined community is certainly a factor of advantage.

Drawing representing strategic leadership in a business or organizational context that can be understood through a similar lens, adapted to the particular needs and nature of the business world. We might speak of a DICE (Decision, Information, Cultural, Executive) model to encapsulate the essential tools a leader can use. There should be four symbols in the design representing the four tools: a scale for decision-making, a magnifying glass for informational, a puzzle for cultural, and an arrow for executive. The design has bright colors
DICE (Decision, Information, Cultural, Executive) model - image generated by DALL-E

D.I.C.E.

In the world of politics and international relations, the DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic) model is a conceptual framework used to categorize the instruments of national power. Strategic leadership in a corporate or organizational context can be understood through a similar lens, adapted to the particular needs and nature of the business world. We might speak of a DICE (Decisional, Informational, Cultural, Executive) model to encapsulate the essential tools a leader can use.


  • Decisional: Represents the ability to make informed, effective, and timely decisions that guide a team or organization toward success. This includes setting goals, prioritizing initiatives, and allocating resources.

  • Informational: It concerns the management, analysis, and use of data to communicate, inform, persuade, and inspire all stakeholders who may be involved, at any of the levels analyzed above. In a world dominated by data, the ability to analyze information and turn it into actionable insights is critical.

  • Cultural: This tool addresses the leader's ability to instill an organizational culture that promotes positive behaviors, a high level of commitment, and an environment in which team members can thrive. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together and can often be a discriminating factor in long-term success.

  • Executive: This is the ability to execute strategy and achieve vision through the effective management of processes, procedures, people, and resources.


In the complexity of the modern world, a strategic leader must be agile and versatile, able to use a combination of these tools synergistically to navigate through challenges and steer his or her ship to the desired destination.


Don't miss the next post, in which we will delve into how a leader can effectively put these tools into practice in the day-to-day, exploring case studies and offering practical advice for your personal and professional growth.


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