Interview with Strategic Leadership Professor Mark Kriger
mark-krigerDr. Kriger has been Professor of Strategic Leadership at the Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway since 1995. He has a Doctorate from Harvard University in Business Administration, as well as Master's degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy from UC Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively. His teaching and research are in the areas of executive leadership, strategy execution, and knowledge processes, especially in technology-intensive companies.

Kriger has conducted executive development seminars and lectured on emotional intelligence, strategy process and leadership in India, China, Norway, Sweden, France, Lithuania and various cities throughout Canada and the United States. He is also the author of numerous articles in the areas of strategic leadership, emotional intelligence, strategy process, and strategic vision, which you can find in many well-known business and management publications such as the Academy of Management Journal and the Journal of World Business.

He has just published with Dr. Yuriy Zhovtobryukh the book Strategic Leadership for Turbulent Times (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) which we will be discussing in more detail in this interview.
So without furthur ado, it is my pleasure to introduce today's guest, Dr. Mark Kriger.

Hi Mark, thanks so much for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights section. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I have been a researcher, writer, consultant and Professor of Strategic Management at three universities in the United States and Norway for the past 35 years. During this time I have conducted executive development seminars and lectured on strategy, emotional intelligence in organizations, and leadership in India, China, Norway, Sweden, France, Lithuania and various cities throughout Canada and the United States. The evolution of strategy and strategic leadership has been enormous during this period.

My teaching, writing and research have mainly been in the areas of executive leadership, strategy execution, strategic process and knowledge processes, especially in technology-intensive companies. I have a Doctorate from Harvard University in organization and strategy, as well as Master's degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively, and have come to appreciate first-hand how interdisciplinary approaches are essential to understanding and solving today’s business challenges.

Could you briefly explain the concept of ‘strategic leadership’?

In brief, strategic leadership consists of those individuals who are in charge of the direction and scope of an organization over the long term. The strategic leadership aims to achieve superior competitive advantage for the organization through the deployment of resources within changing environments (political, economic, social, technological and legal), to meet the needs of markets and fulfill stakeholder expectations.

In our view strategic leadership is both multilevel (operating simultaneously at the individual, group, organizational and industry levels) and multi-dimensional, consisting of seven different balancing processes for effectively competing. Strategic leadership may take a variety of generic forms – stars, clans, teams and networks -  as determined by the situational appropriateness of the internal and external environments.

Your new book / eBook, Strategic Leadership for Turbulent Times has just been released. Could you tell us a bit about it?

strategic-leadershipBased on over 30 years of executive seminars and teaching executives and MBAs in the areas of Strategic Leadership, Strategic Change and Strategy Process in the US, Europe, and Asia (India and China), the book offers guidelines and practical advice for strategic leaders in increasingly turbulent and complex environments.

The book challenges several assumptions popularized in the business press and in management education.

Assumption 1: Strategic leadership appears at first to occur at the organizational level. Strategic leadership is analogous to playing a 5-dimensional chess game that goes on simultaneously at the individual, team, organizational, industry and macro-political levels.

Assumption 2: Strategic process arises from a set of either-or choices. For example, it is often assumed that strategic leaders must be responsive to local demands or pursue a more global strategy. In our current  complex and turbulent world, strategic leadership is a continual balancing act of aligning competing forces, where successful strategic leadership manages to do both.

Assumption 3: Strategic leadership resides with the CEO or top leader. While he or she may be ultimately responsible for the organization’s strategy and plays a key role in its definition and execution, this balancing task is beyond the capacity of any single individual, including the CEO, we find varying forms of network approaches to strategic leadership to be most viable.

This book:
  • Views the strategy process as one where short-term oriented and rational exploitation cycles complement longer term, vision and intuition-driven exploration;
  • Proposes four generic forms of strategic leadership in organizations, describing their relative merits and situational appropriateness;
  • Describes required competencies, ways of knowing and ways of making sense of the opportunity-challenge mix for moving from the ever-changing present into the unknown, and largely unknowable, future;
  • Delineates the sources and forms of wisdom needed to be developed by strategic leaders to create effective long-term decisions.

Why did you feel that this topic needed to be addressed in a book?

Today’s world is exceedingly turbulent and complex – politically, economically, socially, technologically, environmentally and legally – and this trend is increasing as the rate of competition and the need for organizational renewal increase. Strategic leaders need not only appropriate models and tools but also a more robust paradigm for working with this level of change, turbulence and uncertainty on a daily basis.

How has the role of the leader developed over the last few years?

As the turbulence in environments has increased there has been a parallel need for leaders who have a more holistic and dynamic understanding of how organizations should configure their resources to gain competitive advantage. This requires leaders to develop the ability to apply their competencies not simply hierarchically but also in configurations of ever-shifting networks. In addition, there is a need to understand how to create long-term health in firms so that leaders will stay in the firm and not burn out from differing dysfunctional levels of stress.

How are technological advances affecting leadership?

The advent of the Internet, social media, smart phones, tablets, and increasingly intelligent computer systems has placed greater information and knowledge about the competitive developments in their industry and relevant environments at the fingertips of strategic leaders.  However, as this has increased, the need for wise decisions and actions as well as consistent ethical behavior have increased.

In such a highly frictionless world of information the fit between words and actions is increasingly observable by organizational members. The recent election process in the United States is a vivid example of this. Leaders, especially strategic leaders, can no longer hide their real intentions and must continually renew and develop their competence as leaders. Thus, technological advances have not only acted as sources of access to knowledge but also created social arenas where it is no longer possible to hide inadequacies or lapses in judgment.

Does everyone have the potential to be an effective strategic leader? Or does it come naturally to some people?

Everyone has the potential to be an effective strategic leader and organizations need them to step forward as the challenges demand those competencies. Competitive and economic environments are simply too complex and dynamic for a single ‘great man’ or ‘great woman’ to call the strategic shots effectively without the continual input, involvement and skills of an extended and extensive network of leaders.

Do you think leadership is a skill that only top managers need? Or do we all need to exhibit leadership to some extent?

Leadership is a competence that can be, and needs to be, developed and fostered at all levels of the firm. A so-called follower one moment may become a leader the next. Essentially, under the right circumstances almost anyone is capable of being a leader. The challenge for top management in today’s highly turbulent world is to be open to and to encourage every organizational member to be ready to exhibit leadership as needed as the challenge or opportunity arises.

Finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers? 

The book addresses several core requirements for long-term strategic leadership effectiveness in organizations. First, an understanding of the four generic forms of strategic leadership and the situations in which they apply help to guide firms in developing the strategic leadership for the firm. Second, it describes 14 leadership competencies that contribute to strategic leadership wisdom plus the values and supporting behaviors that strategic leaders can instill in their organizations to create long-term organizational health. The book concludes with 12 overall strategic leadership lessons.

Thank you for sharing your insights, Mark.

Dr. Mark Kriger's book, Strategic Leadership for Turbulent Times, is available to order now on Amazon. Or if you'd like to connect with Mark, you can find him on Linkedin.