The 2 Basics of Strategic Leadership

Strategy involves decision-making aimed at shaping the direction of an organization. In a school, creating strategy takes time, three to five years and beyond. Strategy also includes considering broader core issues and themes for development in the school, instead of day-to-day issues.

Strategic planning is held to be one among a number of development approaches. While strategy can be a framework to set future direction and action, it can also be used to judge current activities. A strategically focused school is educationally effective in the short term, but also has a clear set of processes to translate the core purpose and vision into an excellent educational provision that is sustainable over time.

In their analysis of data from interviews with leaders possessing high-level strategic skills, Davies, Davies, and Ellison (2005) have found that there are two defining elements of strategic leadership: strategic processes and strategic approaches.

  1. Strategic processes are a force for change in schools. The idea behind strategic processes is that how we do something is just as important as what we do. Leaders don’t just simply form and implement policy. Rather, they rely on an interaction of processes that create the complete policy.

The “how” part of strategic processes consists of four elements that build strategic direction for the school. These elements are conceptualization, involving people, articulation, and implementation. Conceptualization mainly focuses on reflection, strategic thinking, analysis, and creation of new ways of understanding. The “involving people” part of the strategic process involves encouraging greater participation, leading to higher levels of motivation and strategic skill. The element of articulation brings out the oral, written, and structural means of communication and development of a strategic purpose. The last element of implementing policy involves turning strategy into action, organization, strategic timing and knowing when to quit.

  1. Strategic approaches are how strategies built through strategic processes are put in place.

The Davies et al. model focuses on four approaches. First, it considers the most common approach to strategic planning, the pro-active approach. It assumes that the school understands the desired outcomes, and how to go about achieving them. The method in this approach is similar to the school-development and school-improvement movements.

However, it differs from the reactive approach of emergent strategy, which means using current experience to shape future strategy. This is a common practice in circumstances where schools learn by doing.

If the school is a reflective and learning organization, a pattern of success and failure emerges. The school formulates strategy by repeating successful activities, and avoiding those that caused failures. A pattern of actions forms that, through collaboration, produces a logical strategic framework. Therefore, emerging strategy is a reflective, reactive process that uses experience to predict and improve future patterns of behavior.

The researchers also considered a redistributed strategy as a model of strategic development. This is where senior school leaders determine values and set the direction of the school, but allow other staff to put the policies in place. This strategy only works if values, and a degree of trust, exist among the various players in the school setting.

The last approach is strategic intent, which involves achieving noticeable strategic change by building capacity and ability throughout the school community. This approach sets clear objectives (intents) that the organization is committed to meeting, but recognizes the importance of building capability and capacity first, to fully understand how and when objectives can be achieved.

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