Why Strategic Leadership Skills are Critical in Executive-Level Roles

November 22, 2022

Given the scope of executive responsibility, it should come as no surprise that the quality of strategic leadership can make or break an organization. Unfortunately, many organizations’ efforts to develop leaders come up short, and there are leadership gaps across industries. According to research by management consulting firm McKinsey, leadership quality accounts for nearly 80 percent of overall organizational health. But the same report indicates that more than half of businesses are not confident their leadership development efforts get results. Other studies have found that traditional leadership development programs may not be relevant to the challenges business leaders face. This suggests leaders who want to create organizational agility and a clear path forward to support sustained growth need to invest in their own professional development.

If you hold an executive position or aspire to join the C-Suite, the one-year Executive MBA – Strategic Leadership (EMBA-SL) offered by the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, can give you the skills you need to lead your organization more effectively. However, perhaps you do not feel ready or equipped to commit to a graduate-level business education program. That is understandable. But even if you are unsure whether now is the opportune time to pursue a master’s in strategic leadership such as the EMBA-SL, it is still prudent to research how Executive MBA programs differ from traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs and the unique benefits of specialty EMBA pathways that emphasize strategic leadership. That way, you will be ready to invest in yourself fully by developing your leadership skills when the time is right.

How Is the EMBA Different from a Traditional MBA?

MBA programs come in many formats: full-time and part-time, online and on-campus, experiential and theoretical, general and specialized, etc. The same is true of Executive MBA programs. The primary distinctions between MBA and EMBA programs revolve around admissions requirements, the curriculum and student outcomes.

For example, the average MBA candidate is about 28 years old and has four years of professional experience. The traditional MBA program curriculum focuses on foundational business management concepts and prepares mid-career professionals to step into management or more senior roles. Full-time MBA programs usually take about two years to complete, and graduates emerge ready to step into more senior (but not executive-level) roles.

The average EMBA candidate, on the other hand, is about 38 years old and has 15+ years of professional experience, including five or more years in leadership roles. Haslam’s Executive MBA in strategic leadership program attracts a highly seasoned audience. EMBA-SL candidates are typically 43 years old with 20 years of professional experience and more than 12 years in leadership and strategic management roles. The Executive MBA curriculum delves into advanced business management concepts and strategic leadership. It is often highly customizable. Consequently, EMBA graduates are prepared to meet specific professional goals and take their place in the C-Suite in less time than it takes to earn a traditional MBA.

What are the Principles of Strategic Leadership?

Very few leaders are strategic leaders. In one PwC study of 6,000 senior executives, just 8 percent of respondents were strategist leaders. Strategic leadership is different from other leadership styles in that it puts a practical spin on vision development to help organizations achieve specific short- and long-term goals. It tends to be objective-focused and creates a framework for decision-making that supports planning and clarity. Strategic leaders have a vision for the future and a roadmap for planning and executing that vision. They invite buy-in at all levels of an organization and foster cooperation and unity. One of the hallmarks of strategic leadership is how it makes work meaningful.

Becoming a more effective strategic leader takes a great deal of work and introspection. Haslam EMBA-SL candidates refine their leadership abilities in a structured, personalized plan created with a mentor. During the program’s four nine-day residencies, Executive MBA students work closely with faculty, peers, coaches and mentors to cultivate an advanced strategic leadership toolkit.

What Is an Executive MBA in Strategic Leadership?

The Executive MBA in Strategic Leadership is a graduate-level degree in business designed for working individuals with significant professional experience who see gaps in their leadership skills. Students in these types of business-focused master’s in strategic leadership programs want to develop their leadership skills further, evolve as leaders and advance in their careers.

Unlike other Executive MBA programs, which offer a sequence of independent courses, Haslam’s EMBA-SL program takes a horizontal approach to executive leadership development. Professionals in the program study an integrated series of competencies designed around their career goals and personal aspirations. The EMBA-SL’s unique program structure turns work into an integral part of learning. By using this experiential approach, candidates can apply what they are learning in the classroom directly in the business world. The program’s curriculum, which differentiates the Executive MBA in Strategic Leadership at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, from other EMBA options, emphasizes five aggregate areas of executive competency:

  • Engagement: Graduates build and lead teams more efficiently and effectively with communication, conflict management, interpersonal skills, integrity and honesty.
  • Organizational systems alignment: Graduates sync organizational systems with technical credibility, financial management, technology management, human capital management and efficiency and process capability.
  • Performance and outcome oversight: Graduates focus on accountability, decisiveness, entrepreneurship, problem solving and customer service to produce results.
  • Agility and change management: Graduates use creativity and innovation, vision persistence, external awareness and strategic thinking to guide their organizations through transitions.
  • Coalition building: Graduates promote internal and external collaboration and negotiate successfully with internal and external networks.

Haslam EMBA-SL candidates also receive tailored leadership training with committed executive leadership development coaches chosen from a pool of available coaches encompassing faculty, staff, and community business leaders and professionals with years of administrative leadership experience and related certifications.

Strategic Leadership Skills are Crucial in Certain Roles

All leaders can benefit from strategic thinking, but executives, in particular, need to lead strategically to streamline processes, boost productivity and promote innovation. Strategic leadership skills are necessary for the following roles:

Chief Executive Officer

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking executive in an organization. Their primary responsibilities include communicating with the board of directors, managing overall resources and operations and making crucial corporate decisions. This role is the “face” of the organization.

President or Chief Operating Officer

Some organizations use the titles president and Chief Operating Officer (COO) interchangeably. If the organization has a CEO, the president or COO is the second in command and reports directly to the CEO. COOs must confidently execute on a variety of responsibilities. As one COO put it in an interview, “the COO is whatever the CEO doesn’t want to be.” Typical COO responsibilities include overseeing senior management; providing recommendations to the board; developing goals, metrics, policies, procedures, and reporting standards; and making critical decisions related to operations, resource management and finance.

Chief Financial Officer

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) manages organizations’ financial processes and overall financial health. Most CFOs oversee investment activities, financial planning and analysis, and mergers and acquisitions. Strategic CFOs lead effective finance and accounting teams and create the financial strategy orientation that best fits the organization under guidance from the CEO.

Chief Human Resources Officer

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO) develops and executes human resource strategies, including human resource management and the recruiting, engagement and retention of staff members. This role is evolving due to changing employee expectations and societal disruptions. Many organizations face significant employee retention issues related to COVID-19, technology skills gaps, the Great Resignation and economic issues. Because the CHRO takes ownership of recruiting, engagement and retention, they must be comfortable dealing with change.

Chief Compliance Officer

The Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) oversees organizational compliance with laws, regulations, procedures and policies. They report to the CEO and ensure there are efficient and effective processes in place to support compliance at all levels. Examples of COO responsibilities include developing annual compliance plans, identifying and correcting non-compliance, reporting on compliance matters to the CEO and board of directors and updating compliance procedures as standards change.

Chief Technology Officer

An organization’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) oversees physical technology infrastructure and the staff that works with it while also managing relations with service providers and conducting systems research and development. The CTO identifies an organization’s technology needs, now and in the future, and develops roadmaps for implementation. This is an increasingly important role because technology implementation affects everything from employee engagement and satisfaction to organizations’ ability to leverage data.

Are You Ready to Build Leadership Skills With an EMBA-SL?

You now likely have a better understanding of the difference between traditional MBA degree programs and Executive MBA programs. You know what an EMBA with a strategic leadership concentration is and why such programs are valuable for leaders preparing to step into C-Suite roles. The next step in your professional development journey should be to consider if you are ready to pursue a degree such as UT’s EMBA-SL.

The EMBA-SL program’s experiential and applied learning approaches build skills you need in a format designed to accommodate the scheduling needs of engaged industry leaders. The coursework and overall program structure incorporate your professional goals and the challenges you face at work into the educational experience. Four residencies in Knoxville, Tennessee and abroad provide opportunities to grow your network and hone your skills alongside other business leaders spanning many functions and industries. And perhaps most importantly, the EMBA-SL program integrates individualized leadership training with faculty, staff and community business leaders and professionals with decades of advanced leadership experience. Good leaders become great leaders when they receive expert guidance from UT’s executive leadership development coaches.

Whether this is the right program for you is something only you can decide. If you work in sales, healthcare, supply chain management, finance, international business or another field, the EMBA-SL program can prepare you to excel personally and drive growth in your organization. Haslam’s faculty rank sixth in the world for their cutting-edge research and innovative approaches to leadership. Additionally, Haslam College of Business is one of the top 50 business schools in the country, and the Executive MBA program is ranked #1 in the United States for alumni satisfaction. Graduates of the program gain access to an esteemed network of graduates that are passionate about UT.

You know you have what it takes to be a strategic leader in your organization. You can show the world you have what it takes by investing in your future—and your organization’s future—with an Executive MBA in Strategic Leadership from the University of Tennessee.

Ready to get started? Review the admissions requirements and application deadlines, or apply online today.