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What Senior Leaders Do: The Nine Roles of Strategic Leadership

DDI has identified nine roles that characterize senior strategic leadership. These roles describe the situations of senior strategic leadership, and reflect the most vital and important functions of today’s successful leaders. While strategic leaders are not typically engaged in all nine roles “all the time,” they will often be involved in situations related to more than one role at any given time.

The nine roles are applicable across all senior leadership positions, and are not unique to any particular job; however, the particular focus on any given role at a point in time will be determined by the business issues being addressed at that time. Ideally, an executive team would collectively represent capabilities across the full spectrum of these roles.

Here are the nine key strategic leadership roles and brief definitions of each. A more complete description, including illustrations for each, is included in the PDF.

  1. Navigator – Clearly and quickly works through the complexity of key issues, problems and opportunities to affect actions (e.g., leverage opportunities and resolve issues).
  2. Strategist – Develops a long-range course of action or set of goals to align with the organization’s vision.
  3. Entrepreneur – Identifies and exploits opportunities for new products, services, and markets.
  4. Mobilizer – Proactively builds and aligns stakeholders, capabilities, and resources for getting things done quickly and achieving complex objectives.
  5. Talent Advocate – Attracts, develops, and retains talent to ensure that people with the right skills and motivations to meet business needs are in the right place at the right time.
  6. Captivator – Builds passion and commitment toward a common goal.
  7. Global Thinker – Integrates information from all sources to develop a well-informed, diverse perspective that can be used to optimize organizational performance.
  8. Change Driver – Creates an environment that embraces change;makes change happen—even if the change is radical— and helps others to accept new ideas.
  9. Enterprise Guardian – Ensures shareholder value through courageous decision-making that supports enterprise—or unit-wide interests.

These nine roles are important at senior strategic levels because they help leaders understand what to do to be strategic. They address the broader challenges leaders face as they transition from managing more narrowly focused “silos,”to taking on the challenges of more enterprise-wide leadership. These challenges include factors such as their increased span of influence, loss of tactical control, broader consequences of failure, the business scope they are addressing, their own visibility, and a greater variety in stakeholders they need to satisfy. Several factors will determine a leader’s success or failure in meeting these challenges, such as his or her underlying skills or leadership competencies, knowledge, experience, and executive derailers.

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