people—no matter how smart and tal-
ented they are—to work together
toward an overall strategy.
CCL, in its work with strategic
leaders, has found that the hardest
work of strategic leadership is getting
people throughout the organization—
from the executive team to the people
on the front lines—to think and act
similarly when making and carrying
out strategy, even as the business
environment continually places new
demands on the organization.
For example, in the course of
CCLs Developing the Strategic
Leader (DSL)—a program for upper-
level executives and senior leaders
whose work has long-term strategic
implications for their organizations—
participants are asked to answer these
What is the major challenge
you face personally in becoming a
better strategic leader?
What is the major challenge
your organization faces in the area of
strategic thinking and planning?
CCL analyzed the responses of
291 executives who attended DSL.
The categories that emerged were
varied and complex. For example,
strategic leaders frequently struggle
with the challenge of influencing and
communicating with others—trying
to bring people together toward a
common cause so that work is coor-
dinated. Additionally, strategic lead-
ers are challenged by the need to
advance the entire organization, not
just their own particular units. As the
scope of work increases, new skills
and processes and a better climate for
developing and implementing strat-
egy are required.
At the heart of leading the entire
organization lies a barrier: the sheer
difficulty of getting alignment
throughout a broad entity. CCL has
talked with executives who perceived
that their counterparts in other parts
of the organization were not aligning
their activities. In some cases the
resulting frustration ran so deep that
it turned into real conflict and the
labeling of a colleague as someone
who was “just working her own
agenda at the expense of others” or
who “just cannot think beyond the
Were these people really just out
for themselves? Were they really
incompetent? Of course, people with
questionable intentions or inadequate
skills do at times rise up in organiza-
tions. But more often, in CCLs expe-
rience, lack of alignment is a result of
other, more subtle but powerful rea-
Uncovering and remedying these
reasons is where the work of the
strategic leader begins. Strategic lead-
ers must ensure that people have
clear, shared priorities. They must
work to develop a climate that gener-
ates common understanding. And
they must create a learning orienta-
tion throughout the organization.
These goals should not be
approached sequentially; in fact,
strategic leaders need to work to
achieve them all simultaneously.
One of the best ways to ensure align-
ment throughout the organization is
to set clear priorities and ensure they
are understood. When all goals are
perceived as equally important,
urgent, and critical, people often have
the misconception that all the work
can get done if it is just sequenced
correctly. The reality more often than
not is that people’s efforts and other
resources just get diluted. When
resources are limited—as they almost
always are—most if not all of the
goals do not receive the necessary
attention. In fact efforts to achieve
them may even work against each
One DSL participant said that the
biggest challenge to working strategi-
cally in his organization was “coordi-
nation of each vice president’s strate-
gic and personal agendas to coincide
with regional and global initiatives.
Huge difficulties arise out of different
objectives and priorities in each VP’s
Picture a massive and complex
game of tug-of-war with no overarch-
ing goal: people work passionately to
achieve their own goals but pull in
different directions. It’s hard for the
whole organization to move forward
under such circumstances.
So how do leaders set priorities at
the organizational level? It starts with
a common understanding of the key
strategic drivers of the organization
and the relative priority among these
drivers. Strategic drivers are the
determinants of long-term, competi-
tive success for a particular organiza-
tion in a particular industry; they are
also known as factors of competitive
success, key success factors, and key
value propositions. Organizations
typically have no more than three to
Katherine Colarelli Beatty is
open-enrollment group man-
ager for CCL in Colorado
Springs. A co-author of
Becoming a Strategic
Leader: Your Role in Your
Organization’s Enduring
(Jossey-Bass, 2005),
she holds a Ph.D. degree
from St. Louis University.
Laura Quinn is manager of
the Developing the Strategic
Leader program at CCL in
Colorado Springs. She holds
a Ph.D. degree from the
University of Texas at Austin.

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