Learn Strategic Management Skills

Are strategic management skills required for strategic leadership?

Reading through various business articles, I often see terms strategic management and strategic leadership used inter-changeably.  And I have to admit, I have probably done it myself!  So no doubt it can be confusing to understand and make comparisons.  Are they really apples and oranges?  Or just different perspectives of the same thing?

It’s a more specific example of the confusion caused between the terms “management” and “leadership”.  But I believe the differences at the strategic level of much more subtle.  So I wanted to dive a little deeper into those terms.  And I’ve also thrown in strategic thinking, because it is so inter-twined in these disciplines.

Let’s start by looking at and comparing some definitions of strategic management and strategic leadership.  We will also look at the concept of Strategic Thinking as it relates to leadership and management.  And I will highlight some key phrases to consider in our discussion


Businessdictionary.com describes it as: The systematic analysis of the factors associated with customers and competitors (the external environment) and the organization itself (the internal environment) to provide the basis for maintaining optimum management practices. source:  http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/strategic-management.html

Wikipedia describes it as: the formulation and implementation of the major goals and initiatives taken by a company’s top management on behalf of owners, based on consideration of resources and an assessment of the internal and external environments in which the organization competes.

And to bring a small business perspective, Scarborough, Wilson and Zimmerer describe strategic management in their book Effective Small Business Management: An entrepreneurial Approach ninth edition as:

A process that involves developing a game plan to guide the company as it strives to accomplish its vision, mission, goals and objectives, and to keep it from straying off it’s desired course.  The idea is to give an entrepreneur a blueprint for matching the company’s strengths and weaknesses to the opportunities and threats in the environment.

So you can see a theme of structure, planning and processes that guide the organization on it’s most successful path for the long term.  I believe Strategic Management is about having the knowledge, tools and techniques to 1) analyze and assess various scenarios 2) plan and implement business processes for competitive advantage.


From Businessdictionary.com: The process of using well considered tactics to communicate a vision for an organization or one of its parts. Strategic leadership typically manages, motivates and persuades staff to share that same vision, and can be an important tool for implementing change or creating organizational structure within a business.  source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/strategic-leadership.html

From Wikipedia:  a manager’s potential to express a strategic vision for the organization, or a part of the organization, and to motivate and persuade others to acquire that vision. Strategic leadership can also be defined as utilizing strategy in the management of employees.

The theme here is around motivating and persuading people within the organization.  There is also a suggestion that there is some relationship to position within the organization.  That is, a strategic leader has a senior position and broad responsibilities for people in the organization. 


From Businessdictionary.com: The ability to come up with effective plans in line with an organization’s objectives within a particular economic situation. Strategic thinking helps business managers review policy issues, perform long term planning, set goals and determine priorities, and identify potential risks and opportunities.

Wikipedia describes Strategic thinking as: a process that defines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others. Strategic thinking is an extremely effective and valuable tool. One can apply strategic thinking to arrive at decisions that can be related to your work or personal life.

My impression is that strategic thinking is more “spontaneous” and less structured than strategic management.  It allows one to respond to a particular situation while considering the long term.  However, I believe this ability is based on a strong foundation in strategic management.  That is, having the knowledge, tools and techniques of strategic management (and a good strategic plan!) allows managers to continually consider the big picture in their day to day decisions.

So what does this mean for developing strategic leadership and management skills?

Obviously, all these skills are important.   Strategic Management provides the discipline and process to guide the organization for long term success.  Strategic Leadership provides the communication and connection with people in the organization, such that they will support and achieve the goals and objectives.  And strategic thinking ensures that we always balance day-to-day decisions with the long term vision.

Some managers are more adept at the structure and discipline, while others are more comfortable with motivating people.  So you may naturally want to build on your strengths.  But as you progress into more strategic roles, these lines become less obvious.  You may need to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone to learn broader aspects.

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