In my leadership coaching practice, I’m often asked to help executives build or enhance their ability to ‘think strategically’. When asked about their definition of ‘strategic thinking’, it’s not uncommon to get a variety of responses.
Here’s how I define strategic thinking: A way of thinking with a broad, future-oriented view coupled with a solid understanding of the complex relationship between the organization (or department) and its environment. If you are focused on a particular department within an organization, the “environment” would be both the overall organization as well as the external factors outside the organization. A department’s strategic plan must align with the overall organization’s plan.
As AI becomes more prevalent in the workplace, many roles are being transformed and designed to operate more strategically vs. the routine, tactical types of work. It can be a big shift for some and leaves many unsure about how to develop a more strategic mindset.
Leaders often get caught up in the day-to-day details of operating a business or leading a department. I commonly hear, “I don’t have time to be strategic. There is no space in my day to think.”
If this sounds familiar, let me offer three actions to get you started toward developing a more strategic mindset:
Step #1 – Block, (and protect) time on your calendar to THINK. I know that sounds really basic, but most leaders are typically going from meeting to meeting with little time to mentally process and do real work. It may require you to have your protected think-time away from the office to reduce the number of distractions and chances of being pulled you into some ad hoc meeting. I recommend starting with at least one hour a week.
Step #2 – Create your “thinking topics”. This goes beyond specific activities, like developing your strategic plan, creating annual budgets, and preparing for executive meetings. It also should include topics related to dealing with business and operations challenges, employee concerns, and new initiatives.
Step #3 – Start THINKING. With a broad lens, ask yourself probing questions and seek out connections with other entities/industries, which help identify patterns and key issues. Here are some example questions:
- Why do we need to be successful in this challenge?
- What are the opportunities and risks?
- Who are the stakeholders that can help me see this challenge from different perspectives?
- How are my biases limiting my view of the challenge?
When considering the actions required to implement your strategy, here is a starter-list of questions to help you evaluate the strategic consistency:
- What are the top priority areas for us to focus on? Am I communicating those priorities consistently?
- What may be holding me (the team) back from settling on a solution?
- Are our actions aligned with the overall direction of the organization?
- What contingency plans can be put in place to mitigate the risks?
When it comes to building buy-in and commitment from others in the organization? Consider these questions as you include others in the strategic process and navigate the political landscape:
- What will the result look like if I succeed? What is my vision? (You’ve got to be able to describe this in a compelling way)
- Who else needs to be on board to make this successful? Who can help me champion my efforts?
- How does my vision relate to their goals?
- How can I help create that alignment across the organizational systems, processes or structures?
- What political realities might impact our success? How might I navigate those realities?
Remember, strategic work is not limited to a few top executives. Strategic leaders are needed throughout our organizations if they are to adapt, innovate and succeed well into the future.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.