Personal Strategic Development Assessment

Leaning-In to Strategic Leadership: The Humble Journey of a Learning Leader by Jason Bradley

Personal Assessment

As a leader, I have an intrinsic and extrinsic understanding of the value of strategic leadership within the organization I am a part of and appreciate having strategic plans and objectives to follow. Interestingly though, the way I am created will typically lead me to approach things with more of a tactical methodology when addressing the problems and challenges surrounding me. At times I feel that there is some advantage to this approach given  I am leading the design and implementation of an ecosystem that fits directly with the definition provided by Johansen (2012) as “VUCA describe(d as) a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous” Hughes, Colarelli Beatty and Dinwoodie (2014, p. 2). The risk clearly though is that without a strategic plan the tactical execution may actually cause my actions and solutions to bring me to the wrong destination.

In an effort of introspection, I apply and realize the benefit of strategic leadership as a husband and father. My wife and I have been happily married for 29 years and I would assess a certain degree of this success comes from my desire to finish well, which requires me to think and act strategically from the outset and along the marriage journey. My desire includes being a loving father and ensuring my daughter and son find their way to a full and loving faith in Jesus Christ and to live this out as a demonstration to the world. Both of our children are followers of Christ and have a saving faith in him. I attribute a portion of this outcome to strategically following the Biblical instruction to Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, English Standard Version).

Response to Personal and Professional Stressors

Personally, I realize and accept there are numerous personal stressors as an ever-present challenge in my life. This understood, I  learned to lean into these challenges to provide a healthy counter pressure, an opposite force against the pressure presented from beyond me. This leaning-in is a response using the precious few things I feel I own, those being my faith in God Almighty, my integrity, and my ability to choose the attitude and approach to these external forces. When I let those stressors overwhelm me it is as if the weight of them pushes me back, off balance, and often flat on my back. This is why the leaning into these is critical, this prevents the frequent situation of being on my back looking up at my challenges rather than pushing through to the solution on the other side.

Professionally speaking, our organization is undergoing a very large shift in direction, speed, and the expected outcomes in the last year since the installment of a new president. This results in the abundance of professional stressors in my current work. My response to these quite often tends to be to double-down on the effort to solve the more proximal problems and to respond to the priorities identified by our executive leadership team. Given this typical response, I realize within my thinking and work efforts though there is an intrinsic knowledge of the need to focus on the newly drafted and implemented seven strategic drivers within our organization.

Personal and Professional Wants and Needs for New Responses

I have a strong desire to strengthen my personal response to stressors as they relate to strategic leadership thinking and to practice this in my personal life. As stated, my desire is to lean into the stressors and challenges I am faced with. The ability to push through these will take intellectual and cognitive training and conditioning similar to the physical training and strength required by an athlete. I am keen to get to the point where the strategic knowledge, strength, and response to personal stressors becomes a sub-conscious first-thought and response.  I also know I need to develop this capability which will allow me to strengthen my marriage, to continue to influence and encourage my children in this manner, and to strengthen a Christ-centered legacy for my grandchildren and generations to come.

From a professional perspective, I am eager to grow my ability to respond to stressors by applying strategic leadership through the garnering of knowledge and strengthening of my practices. Within my role as Director of Smart Ag at an agricultural college I realize the power of understanding and practicing the thought of “Abundance thinking accepts that innovation can turn scarcity into abundance” (Ungerer, Ungerer, and Herholdt, 2016, p. 13). This approach to leadership and work intrigues me and pushes me to learn the foundational knowledge and related skills required to be an effective strategic thinker and leader. This is especially valuable as agricultural innovation, through the use of science and technology is a key strategic driver of the work accomplished in my department.

Personal and Professional Strengths and Weaknesses for Desired Change

I am keenly aware of my typical response, and its understood weakness is so often based on addressing the challenges and opportunities immediately urgent. This personal trait is both a weakness and strength. The weakness comes from the frequent absence of personal strategic plans and actions, yet the strength comes from the ability to adapt and modify my approach and efforts given the immediate challenges at hand. To be able to call upon a knowledge, understanding, and practiced repertoire of strategic planning and implementation is a welcome addition to my skill set.

Professionally I see a weakness affecting my desire to change; this is the struggle I have in prioritizing the importance of strategic efforts against the urgency of addressing tactical challenges. This professional weakness comes with great risk due to the absence of frequent and purposeful self-leadership. This practice will allow me to continue being distracted by the immediacy of the urgent. Ungerer et al., (2016) refer to the importance of this in Table 1.16 where they identify the need to “Manage self, internally through reflecting and strategic thinking” (p. 36).

Personal and Professional Mission

Personal Mission: “To love God first, serve others well, leave a family legacy.”

Somewhat daunted at first, when I sat down and asked myself questions about what was important to me, what do I talk to my wife often about, and what do I wish my close friends and family to really see in me, I realized perhaps writing a personal mission statement was as simple as finding the words I wish to continually define me. Firstly, as a Christ follower and a redeemed child of God, I know He wants me to make Him my number one priority, as clearly stated in the first of His ten commandments. Secondly, Christ came to earth as the son of God, a King born to serve not to be served. What a gift his life and sacrifice is for me, and I must live mine in such a way others will see Jesus Christ in me and are compelled to want to know him also. Thirdly, I know I am called to be a husband and father and to build and strengthen my family around the teachings of Jesus my Lord and Savior. This is my legacy. I will have no other more meaningful influence and gift to leave my children, grandchildren, and generations to come than this. Filtering all my thoughts, actions, and words through this lens will focus me and allow my self-leadership to guide me towards developing these attributes from my first second awake in the morning until sleep comes welcomed at the end of purposeful day.

Professional Mission: “To leave this place better than I found it and to model balance and joy to inspire others.”

Nothing I touch, manage, control, create, innovate, design, or solve is mine. It is from God first and secondly borrowed from those who will benefit from my stewardship of those things. In order to truly know innovation has occurred, solutions are being advanced and things are being left better than I found them means I must know the status or current state of how they were found. As a servant leader, this allows me to consider what the focus for improvement is and craft plans and outcomes which will demonstrate there is guidance towards improvement.

As a leader, it is incumbent on me to ensure there is integrity in my actions and alignment of what I say and do with these missional words. To ensure the balance and joy I strive for is evident and real to others I must ensure I’m pursuing, discovering, and leading an evidence-based life every day. I trust my focus on this will allow me to achieve my God-given goals and will inspire others to pursue the same outcomes and make the pursuit of our collective goals an arduously rewarding journey.

When I thoughtfully combine these two mission statements I find a parallel sense of peace, motivation, and inspiration. I find a degree of freeing discipline as I consider the purpose these two statements provide me. The clarity of purpose from these missional statements will drive my actions and allow a focus on personal and professional development devoid of distraction or uncertainty in thought, words, and deeds.

Strategic Drivers

Strategic drivers are the specific elements providing a measured competitive advantage (Hughes et al., 2014 ). To create a significant impact and to achieve full potential from my personal and professional mission statements, I chose the following key strategic drivers;

Personal

  1. Read, study, memorize scripture every day
  2. Choose carefully and participate in activities focused on building and lifting others up
  3. Co-create and invest intentionally in marriage and family building activities

Professional

  1. Create a farm production enterprise to realize an annual positive net margin
  2. Increase Environmental Goods and Services by 100% in the next 5 years
  3. Achieve an average weekly work/life balance score of 8/10
  4. Model a servant leader attitude enabling our team to contribute to a joyful workplace

To Abandon for Future Development

There is great value in creating strategic drivers and measuring ongoing achievement against them. To abandon activities not contributing to those end goals within my mission will allow me to “become focused on what pattern of inherently limited investments will give (me) the greatest strategic leverage” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 25). This realization causes me to choose to leave behind some valuable commitments and engagements on specific committees and boards as of recent. These decisions originally caused me a sense of guilt and a feeling of letting others down, but when measured against a well-defined purpose and articulate strategic drivers it now leaves me feeling focused and motivated on what’s ahead. I’ve recently realized by saying no to the right good things it will allow me to say yes to the great things.

Personal and Professional Excellence

To excel in areas of future personal development will require discipline to engage in a purposeful journey of constant discovery (Hughes et al., 2014). To achieve this will mean I will choose to create a practice of daily Bible reading with my wife, enhanced by a weekly Bible study between the two of us. As well, to build and experience great family adventures allowing the legacy I wish to create, I will endeavor to initiate and actively participate in planning and participating in focused family activities as well as the more epic ones, such as annual vacations.

I am fortunate my current organization placed a high priority on strategic planning. Being afforded the privilege to co-create seven strategic drivers Olds College Strategic Plan: Growing 2025 (Olds College, n.dgives me an insiders experience of the value of this process. This must translate through to my personal professional excellence, and I will choose to develop specific one and three-year business plans to capture the objectives to guide this and the related priority actions allowing us to achieve those objectives. In addition, the culmination of newly learned and practiced strategic leadership skills and the conscious application of these within my personal practice and team setting will be the challenge to rise to. This will require self-assessment and self-leadership skills I have not yet practiced on a regular basis and at a proficient level, and as Hughes et al., point out this level of transformative strategic leadership “requires leaders to examine their own beliefs and demonstrate vulnerability” (p. 49).

Culture Development

The planned development of a strategic culture will be necessary for my personal and professional growth. As I consider what aspects of culture are critical the following come to mind; integrity, transparency, balance, and joy which cross over the themes in both my personal and professional mission statement. These cultural values are critically important to develop and live by as captured in Ungerer et al., (2016) when they quote Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz where he says “The challenge was how to preserve and enhance the only assets we have as a company: our values, our culture” (p. 53).

In order to effectively achieve these is critical for the people around me, both my family and my colleagues, to have an understanding of what these aspirational culture traits are, a measured involvement in implementing them, and the opportunity to assess their current-state health. To this end, I must build engagement and feedback mechanisms to establish integrity and trust in this approach. To be open and transparent about these will allow for a successful long-term implementation of this culture.

Conclusion: Old Economy New Economy Thinking

Old economy thinking paradigms are captured by Ungerer et al., (2016) (p.15). Upon personal assessment, there are at least three areas where I would continue to practice old economy thinking; Turf protection and control, Privilege and technocratic opaqueness of information, and at times a Mechanistic approach to work.

Turf protection and control is a fall-back position to my personal weaknesses and at times lacking trust in others. There are times when I perceive a legitimate turf battle with another department, and my tendency is to take an authoritative and defensive position. Because the approach from the other individual is often very adversarial and untrusting, this becomes my automatic response. To change this approach to new economy thinking of a web of energy and leadership approach, my plan is two-fold. First, it will be strategically important to establish clear and healthy asset ownership and delineate customer segmentation lines. This will create a service provider/customer relationship and will allow for quantitative and qualitative feedback regarding customer service levels. Secondly, my aim is to honestly address the adversarial approach of the other individual and explain the benefit of the webs of energy and leadership approach.

A somewhat similar old economy practice of mine would be Privilege and technocratic opaqueness. This response likely stems from being unsure of another group’s intention for the use and dissemination of data and said information when not fully explained could make the performance of my department appear sub-standard from a quality and quantity perspective. My new economy approach here is to ensure proper performance data benchmarks are established in such a fashion where no individual or department is being seen as poorly performing but so data and backup information explain a statement of fact. The gathering of all anonymized current and historical data and the subsequent visualization and publication of this data, accompanied by a full explanation, will allow new economy thinking transparency and accessibility of information.

The third area of old economy thinking is explained by the mechanistic – whole is the sum of the parts approach I often take when assessing the performance of my department and it’s relation to the rest of the organization. Instead, I wish to approach this with new economy thinking related to holographic – whole is in the part; part reflects the whole. An approach to changing this habit is to ensure I translate my definition of the ecosystem or organizational design, I  built numerous slide decks around into an everyday practical implementation of this approach representing departmental and organizational functioning and reporting.

In summary, my challenge in all three of these areas is to effectively shift all my thinking to the new economy leadership values defined by Ungerer et al., (p. 16) of collaboration and co-creation.

Personal Assessment – Development Areas and Strategic Strengths

According to Hughes et al., (2014) strategy is dynamic…it’s a learning process (p. 20) and strategic thinking is a major part of this learning approach. This may be one of my greatest areas for development, to be removed just far enough from the fray of everyday urgent and immediate priorities and to self-lead in the learning process of strategic critical thinking. The learning, challenges, and assignments contained within LDRS 501 may be my best tool at present to ensure I am informed and practiced. In parallel, to craft an effective business plan addressing the key strategic drivers within our organization is another key development area for me. The translation of these established strategic drivers into a cogent business plan will inform my daily and weekly activities and related thinking and will help me to achieve the results being sought after by the entire organization.

The area of agriculture innovation fits precisely within the VUCA definition; this is the realm in which I function. I bring to this practice an understanding and implementation within this VUCA world where I have had the opportunity to not only understand my personal sense of engagement but have been able to “create, engender, and fuel that engagement with others….to create shared direction, alignment, and commitment (DAC)” Hughes et al., (p. 41).  In addition, I am a collaborator, mostly because I understand how often those around me have skills and knowledge far beyond my own in a given area. I continually am aware these individuals, and their entities, desperately need each other. This compels me to find ways to draw them into our ecosystem.

References

Hughes, R., Colarelli Beatty, & K., Dinwoodie, D. (2014). Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success Jossey-Bass. (Second Edition) San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Johansen, B. (2012). Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World (Second Edition) San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Olds College Strategic Plan: Growing 2025. Retrieved from https://www.oldscollege.ca/about/administration/strategic-plan/index.html

Ungerer, M., Ungerer, G., & Herholdt, J. (2016). Navigating Strategic Possibilities: Strategy Formulation and Execution Practices to Flourish. Randburg: KR Publishing.