By Loren E. Appelbaum & Matthew J. Paese in HR.COM.

1. Loren E. Appelbaum is Executive Consultant–Succession Management Practice for Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global human resource consulting firm specializing in helping organizations achieve exceptional business results through selecting, developing and retaining talented people. In this position, he provides consulting and thought leadership in the area of executive succession management and assessment to clients worldwide. A noted presenter, program facilitator, executive coach, and project manager, Loren’s numerous areas of expertise include executive selection, development, and succession management; assessment; global human resources; and leadership development and education.

2. Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is Manager & Practice Leader, Executive Succession Management, for DDI. Dr. Paese is an internationally recognized thought leader on leadership development and succession management. He has recently co-authored, with William C. Byham and Audrey B. Smith, the book Grow Your Own Leaders.

What Senior Leaders Do?

The Nine Roles Of Senior Strategic Leadership


A recent Development Dimensions International (DDI) survey of Corporate Leadership Council members revealed that approximately three-fourths of companies worldwide are not confident in their ability to effectively staff strategic leadership positions over the next five years. What’s driving this concern? In part, it is the alarming failure rate of strategic leaders. One study, by Manchester Consulting, estimates that four in 10 senior leaders fail within the first 18 months on the job.

While many factors can contribute to a strategic leader’s failure, one of the biggest barriers to success often is a lack of insight into what a leader at the senior strategic level must do to be successful–i.e., the roles of the senior strategic leader.

To understand the importance of this insight, imagine trying to train an athlete for the Olympic decathlon without describing to the athlete the 10 events. Necessity would dictate that training be focused on the skills necessary for success such as speed, strength, agility, coordination, intelligence, etc. But without an appreciation for how these skills would be applied, the training would undoubtedly miss the mark–leaving the athlete to figure out how to succeed during the decathlon itself.

In the same vein, imagine trying to prepare a manager to assume an executive position without sharing details about the challenges that he or she will face in that position. As ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it is exactly how most organizations prepare leaders for strategic-level executive positions. The behaviors and competencies required for success are defined, leaders are developed in those behaviors and competencies, and then they are placed into their new jobs, to sink or swim and fill a host of unfamiliar roles central to effective senior-level strategic leadership.

To help organizations fill in these critical insight gaps for their rising leaders, and provide a framework for better preparing talented leaders for the challenges of leading at the senior strategic level, DDI has identified and defined Nine Roles of Senior Strategic Leadership. They include:

* Navigator

* Strategist

* Entrepreneur

* Mobilizer

* Talent Advocate

* Captivator

* Global Thinker

* Change Driver

* Enterprise Guardian

The Nine Roles Defined


Clearly and quickly works through the complexity of key issues, problems, and opportunities to affect actions (e.g., leverage opportunities and resolve issues).

Navigators analyze large amounts of sometimes-conflicting information. They understand why things happen and identify possible courses of action to affect events. They know which factors really matter in the overall scheme of things.


Develops a long-range course of action or set of goals to align with the organization’s vision.

Strategists focus on creating a plan for the future. Part of this plan might involve capitalizing on current opportunities and future trends, and understanding complex information related to future events. Strategists make decisions that drive the organization toward its vision.


Identifies and exploits opportunities for new products, services, and markets.

Entrepreneurs are always alert for creative, novel ideas. They might generate the ideas themselves or take existing opportunities or proposals down a new path. Entrepreneurs are able to look at events from a unique perspective and develop ideas that have never been thought of.


Proactively builds and aligns stakeholders, capabilities, and resources for getting things done quickly and achieving complex objectives.

Mobilizers gain the support and resources they need to accomplish goals.

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.

Talent Advocates ensure that the organization has people with potential to meet present and future organizational needs. Talent Advocates are less concerned with filling specific positions than with attracting and retaining talented individuals.


Builds passion and commitment toward a common goal.

Captivators build upon an established foundation of trust to instill people with feelings of excitement and belonging. Captivators transfer the energy of their message in such a compelling way that people take ownership of the strategy or vision and are empowered to carry it out.

Global Thinker

Integrates information from all sources to develop a well-informed, diverse perspective that can be used to optimize organizational performance.

Global Thinkers understand and accept international and cultural differences and behave in a way that accommodates people’s varying perspectives. They also discern differences in individual styles and adapt their approaches accordingly.

Change Driver

Creates an environment that embraces change; makes change happen–even if the change is radical–and helps others to accept new ideas.

Change Drivers focus on continuous improvement. Always challenging the status quo and breaking paradigms, they identify ideas for change and become the force driving the change home.

Enterprise Guardian

Ensures shareholder value through courageous decision-making that supports enterprise- or unit-wide interests.

Enterprise Guardians rise above the parochial nature of the job and make decisions that are good for shareholders, even if the decisions cause pain to individuals or to the organization.

Why These Nine Roles?

These nine roles are based on more than 30 years of research and practice in the field of executive assessment, thousands of job analyses conducted by DDI, and extensive input from leaders and leadership development professionals in numerous organizations worldwide. Other such models have been proffered

over the years, by a wide range of researchers and thought leaders, that captured important and relevant roles appropriate to senior leadership. But, upon carefully examining many of these models, we felt that none truly represented the full range of roles. Capturing this complete range was the driving need behind the development of the nine roles.

The Relation between Roles and Competencies–Applying the Nine Roles

Competencies define the skills and abilities of leaders, often expressed in behavioral terms. In fact, much of the writing about leadership focuses on competencies. The roles, meanwhile, capture what leaders do.

Both competencies and roles are important to effectively capture aspects of leadership behavior. While core competencies can be assessed for evaluating specific strengths and development needs, the nine roles act as a template for reviewing the challenges or experiences the executive has faced, or is likely to face in upcoming assignments.

In addition, many executives report that after being in their positions for several months, there were many aspects of their jobs that they never expected and were not adequately prepared to handle; they didn’t have a good understanding of the "events" or roles associated with applying their skills to the situations they encountered. By combining competency-based diagnostic assessment with development based on groupings of those competencies that are linked to the nine strategic leadership roles, individuals can be properly prepared for strategic leadership–and organizations can benefit by building important leadership bench strength.


To have the leaders needed to thrive and grow, now and in the future, organizations must do all they can to prepare the best talent to succeed–especially as those individuals transition to the senior strategic level.

By applying the roles that define effective strategic leadership alongside the necessary skills and competencies important to leadership success, organizations are able to better frame and target their leadership development initiatives to ready their rising leaders for the critical move to the senior strategic level. By comparison, a focus on skills and competencies alone amounts to providing leaders with only a portion of the insights required to comfortably, confidently, and successfully perform as senior strategic leaders.


From India, New Delhi
Good work/job. Keep sharing cvaluable informaitons.
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From Pakistan, Karachi
This article was indeed a work of class. Amazing contents and if someone really follows the same,he will truly be the best manager, motivator and a complete leader.
Thanks for sharing such nice article and jkeep sharing the same.
Sandeep Bakshi

From India, Delhi

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