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Doctoral Project Abstract

Developing Strategic Agility: Re-Thinking Rock, Paper & Scissors Approaches To Strategic Leadership

Joel R. Hoomans
Regent University

According to Harvard Business School Press authors Robert Kaplan and David Norton, strategic failure rates are reported to be "in the 70 percent to 90 percent range" (1).  With such staggeringly high failure rates, scholar practitioners in higher education must re-think their approach to developing strategic agility in emerging leaders.  Novel changes are needed in curriculum specific to developing improved methods of competency development in strategic leadership, which are district from those typically covered in strategic management coursework. 

This innovative coursework that also includes a supporting text is an initial attempt to improve the strategic agility of emerging leaders.  This is accomplished by helping the graduate learners in the Master of Strategic Leadership (MSL) program at Roberts Wesleyan College understand the specific responsibilities of the leadership role in the strategy process (to compel targeted action, unity and focus by leveraging purpose, shared values, alliances and vision).  The new curriculum emphasizes the leadership role in the strategy process as distinctive from the manager and follower roles (building on the distinctives in these roles identified by John Kotter, Warren Bennis, Burt Nanus, Marcus Buckingham, Robert E. Kelley, and a host of others).  To illustrate the situational and triune necessity of each of these roles in the strategy process, correlations are drawn to the Rock, Paper and Scissors (RPS) game.

Today's strategists must develop their own repertoire of Rock, Paper, Scissors skills in a different sense – leveraging leadership skills (e.g. rock), management skills (e.g. scissors), and effective followership (e.g. paper) to join vastly diverse information and people into holistic and beneficial efforts. Just as with the RPS games, each of these roles is essential to winning in the strategy process. While these roles were never meant to compete with each other, the reality is that the disposition of these roles often places them in contention with one another – especially when treated in the positional sense.  In short, the strategic role of the leader is to facilitate vision, flexibility, innovation, and change, while the role of a manager lies in providing stability, order, and efficiency. Meanwhile, the followers want to execute the plan and fulfill the call to action, but often find themselves either confused or trapped between the interests of the stability focused managers and the change oriented leaders. Role flexibility and clarity becomes necessary if this is to be avoided. The class material that is built on this analogy is delivered through a seminar approach which leverages adult learning theory and focuses on producing the following outcomes:

  1. An improved capacity in identifying and discussing situational issues and tasks specific to the strategic process needs – as they relate to the roles of followers, managers and leaders.  This requires the recognition that the best strategist is a triune entity – one part leader, one part manager and one part follower.

  2. The ability to initiate, facilitate and influence the strategy process through a preferred strategic approach (given 10 possible approaches) that leverages industry segment, personal experience/familiarity/preference and particular strategic school features.

  3. Demonstrated competence in the design, integration, and application of the leadership components of the strategic process:

    1. Developing and evaluating mission statements;
    2. Discovering and leveraging shared values; and
    3. Utilizing contextualized environmental scanning in the development of vision.

  4. An ability to apply reflective applications to highly relevant, practical and personal situations, such as those that take place in their workplace, scholarship, church, volunteer organizations, family life, and/or recreation/hobbies.  Strategy formation is not treated as a workplace skill, but rather, as a life skill with applications for business.  This common, often informal and repetitive strategic practice is essential to the development of strategic agility. Without this approach and practice we create strategic awareness at best.  Games are also introduced as a relevant means for reinforcing strategic thinking.

  5. An increased understanding that strategic leadership ultimately requires servant leadership competencies, which place the needs of the collective organization members above personal needs, facilitate both ethical and beneficial outcomes, and leverage the patience and courage necessary to see them through.

Qualitative and quantitative feedback from a sample of graduate students and select senior level strategic practitioners from "best in class" companies (Wegmans and Xerox) appears to indicate that this novel approach to separating strategic leadership responsibilities from strategic management responsibilities in the development of emerging leaders has been beneficial. Continued competency-oriented research with alumni could provide further insights and improvements in the development of strategic competencies for emerging leaders. 



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