Strategic Leadership and Decision Making



In the small unit he had commanded, everyone knew him, loved him, and trusted him, and he was a success at his work. But with a larger unit, his mistrustfulness, his air of gloom, and his silence prevented him from being successful. Events proved clearly that he was only another example that every leader has his limitations, which are fixed not only by his intelligence and his learning, but to a great extent by his personality.

General Aleksei A. Brusilov

Soldier's Notebook



First, organizational effectiveness springs from an executive ability to adapt to a strategic environment and integrate functions and processes within the organization. Second, effective executive performance is a function of executive flexibility. This flexibility emerges from the integration of cognitive, behavioral, and dispositional characteristics. The individual qualities necessary for leadership success at the strategic level are grounded in high information-processing demands and the social complexity that define the domain of organizational leaders.

The intended outcome of integrating an individual's cognitive, behavioral, and dispositional characteristics is to provide a mosaic of strengths and weaknesses, juxtaposed with performance requirements specified by Stratified Systems Theory (SST), to provide a clear picture of developmental growth.

While tactical and technical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills are required at any level of leadership, conceptual skills and flexibility overshadow all other skills necessary at upper levels of management (Katz & Kahn 1978).  


The executive assessment program at ICAF includes four major sources of information. Each source provides one view of important attributes, views, orientations, or preferences. When the separate pieces are integrated, they provide a basis- a personalized mosaic-for assessing where you are in your development. This facilitates charting a course that will accelerate your developmental process. A broad overview of these four sources of information follows. 

MYERS-BRIGGS TYPE INDICATOR (MBTI(r)). Leaders have preferences for certain types of information for sources they trust to give that information, and for processes they use to come to a decision. Some prefer to deal with hard facts (what you see is what you get) and to come to a decision quickly (figure it out and get on with it). Others prefer to probe for underlying dynamics, to understand the "big" picture, and to look for contingencies before executing a given course of action.

These preferences differ, although it may not be evident how big these differences are, how they influence the decision making process, and how well a unit's people communicate with one another. The MBTI(r) will provide important insights in this area.

STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT INVENTORY (SLDI). The SLDI provides you a thorough assessment of three broad areas (by former superiors, former peers, and former subordinates) important to strategic leadership effectiveness: cognitive skills, positive personal attributes, and negative personal attributes. SLDI highlights the importance of cognitive skills in dealing with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the strategic environment.

A high ratio of positive to negative personal attributes facilitates trust and loyalty among leaders and subordinates at all levels. A low ratio of positive to negative is a barrier to effectiveness that may be hard to overcome. The SLDI will give you some insights as to how you see yourself, and how others see you in these three areas.

MANSPEC. The MBTI(r) measures preference for information source and how judgments are made. The SLDI is designed to provide feedback from others on conceptual factors that are important for success. But, there are other important factors, factors that fall into what we call "personality." There is ample evidence that personality traits influence strategic leadership potential and ability.

While personality is probably not as important as conceptual skill, personality deficiencies can be fatal if they interfere with an ability to forge strategic consensus and broad-based support for decisions. In recent years, evidence has accumulated in regard to personality dimensions. There is every reason to believe they are important for strategic leaders (McGee, Jacobs, Killcullen, & Barber 1996).

MANSPEC (MANDATA, 1994) is a battery of several tests designed to assess personality dimensions important to interpersonal skills, conflict handling, and for determining how to function as a member of a group. The MANSPEC themes are remarkably close to the "Big Five" dimensions (see Barrick & Mount, 1991; McCrae & Costa, 1987; Costa & McCrae, 1992; Hogan, Curphy, & Hogan, 1994).

CAREER PATH APPRECIATION (CPA). Career Path Appreciation (CPA) is a one-on-one interview to tap conceptual skills and to predict future growth of conceptual skills. Originally developed by Stamp (1978; 1988), it provides two estimates: One is current conceptual capacity or ability; the second is potential for growth in conceptual capacity or ability.

  Administering a complete CPA is time and labor intensive. For those reasons, ICAF developed and uses a modified version of the CPA. Although not as comprehensive, the MCPA is valid and reliable. If you would prefer the more comprehensive assessment provided by a CPA, see your instructor.









One of the most widely-used and best known assessment instruments, the MBTI(r), measures personality preferences in four areas:

IMPLICATIONS-DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS. It is not surprising that there is a bias toward S, T, and J. Leadership performance requirements experienced by the vast majority of students have been oriented toward "hands on," direct responsibilities. However, the future will hold different requirements. There are several implications for planning future development. First, it is likely that the former classes are representative of future classes. This means that there will be a number of students with extreme scores. A student with an extreme score (35 points below or above the midpoint of the scale) on any dimensions should re-evaluate his/her flexibility to deal with situations demanding actions contrary to the student's expressed preference. Vulnerabilities indicated by strong preferences would include the following:

The issue is not that any one pattern of preferences is either "good" or "bad" but rather that extreme preferences indicate a lack of balance, constituting vulnerability. The developmental objective is to identify any lack of balance and formulate a plan that will result in skill-building. A large part of the SLDM course is focused on how to use self-assessment information for this purpose.


Except for the SLDI, all of the assessment instruments described in this chapter rely on your assessment of yourself. The Johari Window illustrates the challenges to communication effectiveness, and thus to the potential for strategic consensus, that blind spots might create.





I KNOW Potential for rational discussion/ negotiation Potential for self-concealment/mistrust
I DON'T KNOW Potential for Avoidance/Poor communication Potential for Blunder

SLDI CONTENT. The SLDI measures three broad categories of factors: conceptual skills and abilities, positive attributes, and negative attributes. Each is important in its own right because, as critical leadership tasks become more complex at more senior levels, leaders must encourage and empower teamwork among subordinates and contemporaries in conceptual capacity and skill. The factor structure of the SLDI is discussed in detail in A Guide to the Strategic Leader Development Inventory (Jacobs 1996).

Three perspectives are important when interpreting the SLDI. One is how you stand in relation to others in your self-assessments. A second is how your self-assessments compare with those of others, particularly if one "source" is substantially higher or lower than the others. A third is whether there are "peaks" and "valleys" that might indicate particular strengths or weaknesses.



Conceptual Skills and Abilities

















Future Vision

Team Performance







Political Sensitivity








MANSPEC (MANDATA 1994) is an assessment system with an integrated battery of questionnaires and tests. The system provides automatic scoring and interpretation of results. In the interpretation, it integrates the assessment results and yields a range of objective, jargon-free reports. This was a part of the automated battery you took at the beginning of your ICAF year, and will be a part of your individual feedback, providing information on:

In condensing the number of personality variables, five major patterns,, derived from a factor analysis are reflected in the MANSPEC (MANDATA, 1994) data. These patterns may be interpreted as the "Big Five" personality factors: Surgency, Intellectance, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability.

Surgency. This pattern consists of high scores on driving, dominance, challenging, and professional/managerial style, as well as low scores on supportive traits. Surgency is significantly related to MBTI(r) preferences -introversion and thinking.


This pattern identifies a strongly competitive person who may or may not be a team player, but who wants to win. This person may not be sympathetic with someone who needs personal support. The strength of a person with this pattern is that he or she is strongly motivated to get to the top, and will drive relentlessly to get there. However, there may also be vulnerabilities. A person with this pattern may pursue win-lose (as opposed to win-win) strategies; win-lose is detrimental to team building or consensus decision making. This pattern also may produce a leader who drives his or her subordinates too hard and for too long, or for the wrong reasons. By contrast, the reverse of this pattern may identify a leader who avoids risk; for example, when competing for resources for his or her unit.

Intellectance. This pattern consists of high scores on creative activities, new ideas, ingenuity, and catalyst, coupled with a low score on practical attributes. This factor is called openness or open to experience. Intellectance is related to the MBTI(r) preferences-intuitive and perceiving.


Someone with this pattern can think "outside the box" and enjoys doing that. He or she looks for new experience, is open to options, and can handle a degree of uncertainty. This pattern also identifies a leader who is likely to be successful at higher levels. The strength of a person with this pattern is the ability to see options others might miss-to create a longer-range vision of where the organization should be going. A possible vulnerability is a tendency to miss details.

Conscientiousness. This pattern identifies a person who is systematic, cautious, and possibly rigid. It consists of six MANSPEC (MANDATA, 1994) scores: planning, stimulus control, serious-mindedness, risk control, persistence, and details. Conscientiousness, sometimes referred to as methodical, is related to the MBTI(r) preferences- introversion, sensing, and judging.


A leader with this pattern wants a high degree of predictability in his/her environment. Extensive and detailed plans are one way to get it. Leaders with this pattern are hard workers. The strength of a person with this pattern is a determination to get the job done. A vulnerability is a tendency toward micromanaging the work of subordinates, a fault visible to peers and subordinates alike.

Agreeableness. Five MANSPEC (MANDATA, 1994) scores contribute to this pattern: high on affiliation, high on caring activities, high on persuasive activities, high on consulting, and low on critical judgment. Agreeableness is related to the MBTI(r) preferences-extraversion and feeling.

This pattern could be called "likes people," and suggests a person who has high regard for and enjoys being with other people. A strength of a person with this pattern is outgoing behavior and inter-personal interaction, a necessary part of consensus building. A possible vulnerability is that this person may not focus on the task at hand.


Emotional stability. Three MANSPEC (MANDATA 1994) scores contribute to this pattern: high on openness, high on energy, and high on mood stability. A person scoring high on these three MANSPEC (MANDATA 1994) variables is likely to be objective and helpful in facilitating the work of his/her organization. This factor sometimes is called "even-tempered." Emotiontional stability is related to the MBTI preferences-extraversion and thinking.


A strength of a high scorer would be that subordinates would keep him/her better informed, whether the news is good or bad. There is no apparent vulnerability to high scores. A clear vulnerability with low scores is the perception of being arrogant, self-serving, and possibly unethical.

Developmental Implications. The table of strengths and weaknesses is a good guide for how to use MANSPEC (MANDATA, 1994) information (see following page). Strategic leaders must be competitive. They also must be creative, providing new ideas and creative vision to inspire and stimulate their organizations toward future objectives only dimly seen. (To some degree, they must be methodical but creativity and visioning skills are more important than being methodical.) Finally, strategic leaders must genuinely like people. They will have an advantage in building consensus decisions if they are even tempered.


A complete CPA is a work sample in the sense of observing how decision making is being exercised. A CPA assesses how the person is coping with complexity. The CPA taps into thinking processes, concept formation, comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, insight and intuition, characteristic strategies, and feelings about work.

The MCPA was developed at ICAF as a labor-saving surrogate for the CPA. The MCPA uses the part of the CPA (Phrases) which accounts for the largest amount of significant variance in the CPA rating of conceptual capacity of senior service college students.

What good is the MCPA? Stamp (1988) reported a longitudinal study of 182 lower and middle level managers who were followed up 4 to 14 years after initial assessment. The initial assessment predicted their current level within their organizations with a correlation of .79, proving this assessment has significant predictive validity of strategic leadership potential. This strategic leadership potential is based partly upon the ability to cope with complexity, concepts, formation, ambiguity and uncertainty.


* Reported in McIntyre, et. al. 1993

A person with high levels of conceptual capacity-a key dimension of strategic leadership ability-will be intelligent, intuitive, open-minded, flexible, and emotionally stable. These personality traits will yield problem solving abilities within a VUCA environment.

FOCAL POINTS FOR INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT. The study of the leader as an individual is based on the premise that growth in both mental capacity and problem-solving skills continues for most people throughout their adult lives. This development depends on clear self-understanding of strengths and weaknesses and the motivation to grow.

MENTAL MAPS. The decision maker's mental map (frame of reference) is an important tool. Complex mental maps are like brick buildings. Each piece of information and experience placed within an overarching structure provides strength. Several elements of the ICAF self-assessment point to mental map-building. They are the MBTI(r) S-N and J-P scores (moderate N and P), the SLDI (all the conceptual skills factors), and MANSPEC (in particular, intellectance and emotional stability).

Clearly, motivation is very important. If the assessment process shows low inclination toward activities that build complex mental maps, it is time to re-think professional and life objectives. Uncomplicated mental maps make for uncomplicated lives, but neither is characteristic of the strategic environment and strategic leader performance requirements. This is where motivation comes in.

SKILL BUILDING. Strategic leaders are extraordinarily well-rounded in the skills they bring to the demands of their jobs. It is a mistake to think they were born that way. They have worked long and hard to develop the tools and skills they are using, focusing not only on what they started out with, but also on what new ones they needed to become more proficient. For example, writing is a skill. Some find it easier than others to write well. But, everyone can develop better writing skills with motivation and practice. So it is with all the skills of strategic leadership.

The essence of skill building is identifying experience, activities, or studies to develop weak skills. In all cases, the most important ingredient after an area of skill deficiency has been identified, is commitment to improve in that area. 


What happens if you don't respond to the results of your executive assessment in terms of your subsequent professional development and leadership performance? It will be a phenomenon called "derailment." Derailment can take many forms-dismissal, transfer, early retirement, plateauing, or death. The causes of derailment are linked to failures to develop executive flexibility. Evidence of these failures include: 



When you have completed your individual feedback session with an SLDM faculty member, you should have gained an excellent foundation for understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your professional and life goals, and your developmental needs. Your development should be aimed at:


(Thurman, 1991)

- Analytic work not enough.

- Synthesis skills are essential.

- People process information differently.

- Relationships with others.

- Expectations of others for you.

- Essence of the process.

- Step back -- get the meaning.

- More workable decisions.

- Better prepared for disagreement.

- People of good will have differing opinions.

- Sense of personal efficacy.

- Appetite for knowledge.

- Competence on the boundaries.

- Total reliability as seen by others.

- Unquestioned ethics.

- Conflict abounds everywhere.

- Understand where people are coming from.

- Must understand transient events.

- When in charge, take charge.

- Have faith in the people around you.

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