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Developing Today's Strategic Leaders

Competence addresses what a leader's actions should be, character ultimately determines what a leader's actions will be.

If you intend to take a white water rafting trip, you better be ready. There are many dangers, some seen, others not, that need to be addressed before departing. Likewise, the ability to effectively apply strategic thinking and acting competencies is essential for navigating the changes needed in today's turbulent marketplace. However, competence alone only addresses what a leader's actions should be, and a leader's character ultimately determines what their actions will be. An equal focus needs to be on developing both leadership character and competence. Like with white water rafting, a lack of attention to character development is detrimental to both the leader and the organization's performance. Proper preparation is paramount to avoiding risk and having an adventure of a lifetime.

Developing the critical few strategic leadership competencies (see Minding the Gap Between Created and Realized Strategy), requires the use of varied development approaches. One practical approach to developing deep technical competence involves reading current peer-reviewed journals, think tank reports, and attending conferences on the latest industry trends and research. Another proven successful method for learning the critical thinking skills and the confidence needed to lead through today's disruptive change involves exploring potential options and associated risks in small learning teams.

Character development can be incorporated into existing leadership, competency development programs. Essential aspects of leadership competency and character development are feedback and reflection. Most leaders, especially senior leaders, receive little feedback on their character because of the conversation difficulty. Also, most leaders spend little to no time reflecting on their painful character experiences. Utilizing a dedicated coach can improve the quality of character feedback and purposeful character reflection. The use of dedicated mentors can also support character development through reflection on insights gained from experience. Effectively incorporating character development into leadership competency development programs builds a foundation for leaders to make the right strategic decisions.


Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., Seijts, G., & Gandz, J. (2013). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12(2), 285-305. doi:10.5465/amle.2011.0024a

Pollitt, D. (2005). Curtis fine papers aligns strategy and leadership style with business priorities: Three pillars of development for top executives. Human Resource Management International Digest, 13(6), 33-35. doi:10.1108/09670730510619312

Seijts, G., Crossan, M., & Carleton, E. (2017). Embedding leader character into HR practices to achieve sustained excellence. Organizational Dynamics, 46(1), 30-39. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2017.02.001

About the Author:

Jeff's knowledge and expertise include strategic planning facilitation, strategy design, driving change, and workforce strategies to achieve influence and grow organizations in the pharmaceutical, retail, engineering, and food and beverage industries. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit to learn more about strategic planning services provided.

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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