The Coach's Corner

3 keys to strategic leadership

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #51

When I consider the people in my life who’ve influenced me the most I think of my husband, parents and close family members, bosses and executives who worked with me on my career progression, teachers and professors who took a keen interest in me and those who have overcome extraordinary challenges to live life through adversity.

And then there’s my neighbor, Bonnie. (She allowed me to use her name, without permission who knows what could happen?)

Many of the people I admire have been part of my life because they had to be: relationally, professionally or academically. Bonnie, who lives across the street, can ignore me at will – and sometimes she does when it suits her. But in the 12 years we’ve lived a stone’s throw apart we have grown on each other through laughter, gardening, parenting and life conversations. And happy hours. Every Friday night for the past four years.

She has the props of a life well-lived: West Point graduate, army service in Vietnam, married to a retired colonel, mother of two successful grown adults and devoted grandmother of four.

Watching her walk back home with an empty bag last week, after delivering food to another neighbor, I recalled how she was one of the few people who showed up on our doorstep in the final few weeks of my mother’s life. She would come to sit, to listen, to ask questions, to laugh. And then she would leave. Only to return the following day.

During and beyond that time, she has demonstrated leadership qualities with a balance of boundaries and availability. Wit and warmth. Direct communication and empathy. And sassiness.

Using the power of observation, recognition and the sheer perseverance of showing up for our weekly happy hours for the past four years with her husband and two other dear neighbors, I weave Bonnie’s strategic leadership skills into many of my coaching conversations. Like everything she does, she has a recipe. A living recipe.

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #51


3 keys to strategic leadership

As Carrie and I worked through how to strengthen her strategic leadership skills for a new role I turned to the Center for Creative Leadership. In their research among hundreds of thousands of leaders, they’ve found they possess three key qualities.

1.     They think strategically – understanding the relationship between their org and the environment.

Leaders who endure through challenge after challenge are learners at their core, and they soak up knowledge from everywhere and everyone. They welcome new ideas, debates, and even controversy because they know that standing still is the surest way to be left behind. Rather than concentrate on consolidating power, they engage others in collaboration because the prize they seek is infinitely larger than whatever they currently possess.

2.    They act strategically – taking decisive action that is consistent with their org.

Leaders who think and act strategically are constantly learning and acting. They’re not afraid to re-strategize as they learn new things, and they’re careful to pay as much attention to the parts of the strategy that didn’t work as those that did. Things that don’t work as planned indicate that more learning is required.

3.    They influence strategically – inviting others into the strategic process, with relationships inside and outside the org.

In order to influence strategically, an organization needs a culture that supports collaborative problem solving and relies on high levels of commitment by people to do the right thing, unselfishly. When leaders think, act, and influence strategically, they’re able to bring individuals across the organization together and build trust in the vision and the goals.

Carrie is building her strategic leadership muscles with her current team. Her approach as she thinks and acts and influences reminds me of how Bonnie lives and breathes strategic leadership skills.


Lessons from my neighbor

Bonnie doesn’t miss a thing in our neighborhood. Think of a kinder, funnier version of Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched, peering out from behind the blinds. Except Bonnie doesn’t need the blinds.

When executives share that members of their team aren’t engaging, or they feel overlooked, misinterpreted or left out – I offer the lessons I continue to learn from living life near Bonnie.

First: observe.

Bonnie is tuned into what’s going on with the people around her. She pays attention to detail.

What’s your favorite food? What do you like to drink?  Where’s your favorite place to vacation? Does your family need a place to stay while visiting?

Once noted, she doesn’t forget.

Second: recognize.

When a milestone of any sort is reached: game winning lacrosse goal, golf tournament win, selling a new client, reading a newsletter, losing a job, a challenging health diagnosis – Bonnie is the first to recognize the importance of the event. She marks it with cheers, notes, food, magazines, comics. You feel seen. You know you’re heard. You’ve been recognized.

Third: show up.

It’s one thing to observe, another to recognize, and it’s the final element of showing up that seals the deal. When Bonnie commits, she’s in. She’ll drive through snow and rain. Park blocks away. Arrive without a formal invitation. She attends birthday parties, for toddlers, who aren’t related. She dances with neighbors at fundraising events. You can count on her.

Simply put – managing your team well benefits everyone involved when you observe, recognize and show up.

My takeaway

It’s interesting what rises to the top when you think of the impact of someone in your life. I would have thought I’d lean into Bonnie’s master gardening skills, her extraordinary ability to create meals from scratch, her sassy retorts to just about anything.

And yet the three things that stand out for me, her ability to observe, recognize, and show up, are what I offer to so many as they work through becoming more strategic leaders.

These lessons are more poignant as we are packing boxes, filling pods and planning to move away this summer.  Leaving behind relationships with such deep roots is no easy feat. We find it hard to believe we grew so deeply together in this short, 12-year, season of our lives.

By remembering to observe, recognize and show up – I’m carrying a living recipe. One I use nearly every single day.

I also know that we have a place to stay in Bonnie and Bob’s basement whenever we return to visit.

I always thought I had good neighbors. It turns out I have the best neighbors in the world.

Jim Casey



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