The most common developmental goal for executives today is that they need to be more strategic. If you are part of the middle management and aspiring to be a senior leadership, there is a strong chance that at some point you have already received this feedback- that you need to be more strategic. Some managers get this feedback either in a 360˚ assessment or performance appraisal. Others realise this as a shortfall once they step into a leadership role.
As one of my clients put it, “I’m great at fixing things and solving problems; but now I seem to be required to create a strategy and vision for the business; I’m not sure I know what I’m doing.”
What does it mean to be strategic?
In a nutshell, becoming more strategic means moving from an execution mindset to that of thinking and creating. Managers are often great at executing tasks derived from someone else’s strategy but not effective in developing their own strategy for their business.
In individual roles “Getting things done” is what counts.
In leadership roles developing the vision of what needs to be done counts.
This is a critical metamorphosis in thinking that needs to happen when an individual becomes a leader.
Barriers to strategic thinking:
I’m always right: Executives often miss developing their strategic thinking muscle because they just never had an opportunity to utilise it. Strategic thinking requires you to operate from the position of a learner rather than someone who knows it all. Often ego and/or habit prevents people from being flexible in their thinking. Strategic thinking requires you to be open to other peoples perspectives and be willing to learn from others, especially those who think differently from you. Executives sometimes are so used to “fire-fighting that they assume strategising also works the same way. They jump to the implement the first “fix” that comes to mind.
Too busy to think: Sometimes executives are so busy managing their job that they have no time to think, leave alone strategise. Unfortunately, execution roles are often high pressure, high action spaces where you need to move from one task to another. Having a busy calendar can make it easy to put strategising as a low priority item when in reality it should probably be the highest in your list.
Short-term, small thinking: Often executives work with the mindset of fix one thing and move on to the next. The vision gets limited to the next critical and urgent task at hand.
How to be more strategic in your thinking
Observe, question and learn: Start with questioning your own thoughts. Stop accepting things as they are. Understand why anything is done in your business and organisation the way it is. Look for people with different opinions and ideas. Understand their way of thinking. A lot of smart leaders build their direct teams by hiring people with different strengths and perspectives than their own. This helps them multiply their own thinking capacity by adding new perspectives and ideas.
Big picture thinking: Step out of your team-centric thinking to an organisational thinking. Understand that your team is part of a system and understanding the system is important to build any strategy. Similarly, the organisation is one part of the industry and understanding the industry and industry trends is key to be able to build a strategy. Knowledge of your customers and their changing needs, disrupters in the market and competitor tactics are all part of developing your strategic thinking. This is because a strategy is always about interconnected systems and the future they are heading towards. Understanding the changes they must go through in order to sustain is the crux of all strategy.
Thinking time: Set aside time to think. Period. This step is probably the easiest to understand and hardest to implement. While execution of actions is primarily a left-brained logical process, strategic thinking like other creative processes requires a right-brained thinking (Assuming a right-handed person). The mind is most creative when it is relaxed and at rest. Taking time to do nothing is actually time you are investing in being creative and developing your thinking powers.