The strategist sits at the heart of the organization; is it any wonder your colleagues look to you for leadership? What are the traits that make a strategist a good leader, and how do you best provide that leadership as a strategist?
Think back to what we’ve defined as the role of the strategist. The overarching responsibility of the strategist is to drive the thinking, ideas and innovation in order to win, keep and grow business. Within that context, the core role of the strategist is to be the resident storyteller. In order to do that, the strategist needs to understand the business problem and the stakeholder dynamics, to define the vision that is necessary to achieve the objective. Further, the strategist needs to get everyone behind it, to ensure that it is being delivered against expectations and to pull together the subject matter experts for guidance when it isn’t. Finally, the strategist needs to anticipate challenges, to identify opportunities, and to use storytelling to achieve all these things. To do this, the strategist needs to lead.
What makes a strategist a good leader? If we think about the attributes of a good strategist, they are also the traits we would expect of a good leader. A strategist needs a strong familiarity with the various disciplines of digital marketing, the type of familiarity that can only be acquired through direct hands on experience. This is for three reasons. First, you need to be able to draw on your own experience rather than have to ask a subject matter experts every question. Second, you need an appreciation of the work of your colleagues. Finally, you need to be able to gain the respect of your colleagues, and it is hard to do so if you don’t understand their work.
But beyond the hard skills needed to be a leader in this role, you also need considerable soft skills. You need confidence, combined with humility. Confidence is important because it breeds optimism in your team and a can-do attitude. But unchecked, it can veer into arrogance, and no-one wants to follow that.
Confidence needs to be combined with a sense of calm. While passion is important as a leader, it is also critical to project calm in order to give your team the support the need in difficult waters.
Understanding when they are stressed or challenged can only be achieved by being empathetic. A strong sense of empathy or emotional intelligence is necessary in order to see the world through their eyes, to be able to understand their perspective and to be able to give them the direction they need.
That direction needs to be delivered optimistically. I believe that you should enjoy your work, and that it should be inspiring. The only way to do that is to be an optimistic person, because that is what the team responds to. If you don’t think a challenge can be overcome or an objective achieved, why even bother to try?
Finally, you need to be able to convey to your team that you trust their judgment, that you trust their ability to deliver, but stay close enough to provide guidance or course-correction when necessary. This isn’t about micro-management, but rather about showing that you care enough about their work and success that you are ready to support them.
Being a strong leader is a difficult skill to pull off well. It takes time and experience to hone your skills. But the strategist is perfectly positioned to be a leader. Build on the skills that make you a good strategist. They are also the skills that make you a good leader.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.