Book Review: Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership

Updated: Feb 14

by Sarah James

Have you ever participated in a strategic planning process to help identify an organization’s mission, goals, and priorities? What was your experience? Who was involved in preparing the plan? How was the plan implemented? If your experience was anything like mine, your group spent many hours creating a vague vision statement and goals that rarely again saw the light of day. And when they were referred to, the vague language provided little concrete guidance.

If you’ve felt frustrated by your strategic planning experiences or want to encourage meaningful collaborations that promote equity of voice and equity of inclusion while also identifying measurable, realistic outcomes, we have a book for you! Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership offers 10 skills to create equitable, actionable plans. The authors of this book are practitioners and teachers of this practice, refining the discipline along the way with extensive supportive research.

In a nutshell, Strategic Doing is a discipline of leadership strategy in which the planning and doing occur simultaneously and iteratively. Strategic Doing is a practice of co-leadership developed for a world that operates in open, loosely connected networks rather than hierarchical systems.

This book serves as an introduction and guide to the approach and practice of Strategic Doing. A chapter is devoted to each skill and contains background and theory as well as useful examples and an illustrative case study of how the skill was used in a particular situation.

One of the most powerful and versatile skills is in chapter 3 – Frame the Conversation with the Right Questions. At the core of Strategic Doing is managing conversations. This chapter teaches how to be intentional with designing and guiding these conversations, which in turn lead to doable action. Starting conversations with a good framing question leads the conversation away from problem-centric dialogue to opportunity-driven conversation. This chapter alone is worth the read.

The chapter on Converting Your Ideas to Outcomes with Measurable Characteristics reframes the focus of evaluating success. Groups are asked to consider the following three questions:

  • If we are successful, what will we see?

  • What will we feel?

  • Whose lives will be different and how?

By asking these questions, groups can get to the heart of why they want to do what they are planning to do – in other words, the impact. As a research development professional who works in the grant writing world, I found this chapter very useful for thinking about how to write a powerful impact statement for a grant proposal.

The Learn More section at the end of the book provides a rich resource library grouped by concepts presented in each chapter. Each skill in this book can stand on its own and be applied in many different settings. If you want to learn tools to encourage more productive patterns of thinking and behaving within an organization or community, I recommend giving this book a try.

Watch our related Brown Bag video and presentation.

Sarah James, MA, has nearly 20 years of research development experience and is trained in Strategic Doing. Through AtKisson Training Group, she facilitates Strategic Doing workshops and co-leads training for university faculty in planning and writing grant proposals in the arts and humanities.

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