by Reynold Lewke and Steve Kelner, Egon Zehnder International

What It Means to Be an Industry Leader

Oct 17, 20073 mins

Consultants' research on executive competencies finds top performers influence the direction of their companies and industries

The C-level competency of strategic orientation is the ability to think long term, strategically, and beyond one’s own area to plan against larger issues. It depends on complex thinking abilities, both analytical (cause-and-effect chains) and conceptual (patterns). It isn’t just “the vision thing”—the emphasis is on business strategy, not vivid images. The strategies must incorporate specific business issues, and in many cases propose action, or at least be so clear that anyone knowing those strategies can use them to make decisions for action.


Exercising Industrywide Leadership

More About Being Strategic

Basic performance in this competency is understanding others’ strategic priorities and appreciating opportunities for long-term change. Moderate performance comes when one begins to generate actual plans, translating from a larger corporate or divisional strategy down to something applicable to one’s own area. At this point, to improve performance, an executive must challenge or drive the strategy of the larger organization, not just that of his or her own area.

Thereafter, strategic orientation performance gains come from the progressively greater scope of a leader’s strategic thought, so that at the highest level, the executive either is developing a strategy that incorporates multiple businesses and integrates a complex variety of different and possibly conflicting businesses, or is developing a strategy that can transform the nature of the business itself. For The Options Clearing Corp. Executive Vice President and CIO John Von Stein (read his columnhere, the scope for strategy as it relates to operations and capability planning is the whole options industry.

Are You Ready for a Strategic Orientation?

Once you understand the focus and scope of a strategic orientation, it’s important to consider your organization’s predisposition toward strategic leadership, as well as your own capability to contribute. Some questions to consider include:

About the Organization

Does the organization have an articulated strategy?

Does it make decisions based on the strategy?

Is your IT organization focused on the external market and measured with external market metrics? To what extent is your team market-driven versus technology-driven?

How complex is the business? Does it include a wide variety of products, customers and business models? Is there a coherent focus on the direction of the business?

About Yourself

Do you understand the drivers of the business and all the different aspects of the market that apply to it, including competitors, history and business priorities?

Do you see your role as formulating direction, or just executing other people’s plans?

How strong is your ability to perceive the feelings, beliefs and preferences of others? Can you see a situation from others’ perspectives, even if you disagree with them?

Do you get energized by seeing a group work together, or by bringing new groups of people together?

Based on the answers to these questions, you can decide how to develop the skills that make you strategic. Thinking strategically takes hard work because the tyranny of the urgent always trumps the importance of longer-term planning. Stay true to the long term.

Reynold Lewke is North American CIO practice leader with Egon Zehnder International. He can be reached at Steve Kelner is global knowledge leader with Egon Zehnder’s Talent Management and Management Appraisal Practice Group. He can be reached at