Want to Be More Strategic? Your Calendar May be the Problem

How can I be more strategic?

Most leaders today are asking this question or ‘how can my team be more strategic?’ It’s a smart question to ask as in study after study, strategic leaders are found to be the most highly effective leaders.

The Harvard Business Review cites a study that defines strategic thinkers as leaders who take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there. It also means thinking systemically. That is, identifying the impact of their decisions on various segments of the organization.

The good news is that strategic thinking can be learned and developed. There is one simple yet major obstacle to being more strategic – how you spend your time.

You can’t be a strategic thinker if every day is spent running to the next meeting or scrambling to meet four deadlines that came too soon. Thinking strategically takes time and space.

Thinking strategically takes time and space.

You’d think that Warren Buffett would be one of the busiest humans on the planet. Yet, he is known for lots of white space on the calendar to learn and think. He reads a lot and, as he says, anyone can do it. Most of us can’t clear our calendars to research and learn most of the day, but there is wisdom in the principle.

Being strategic takes time to think ahead and see opportunities. Time to explore new ideas. Time to lift up and gain perspective that can only be achieved when you aren’t overscheduled and overbooked. You are undermining yourself if you can’t block an afternoon once a week, or at least for a few hours, to pause and lift up from the day-to-day activities.

Strategic thinking can be built over time by making a few simple but important changes:

  1. Build time into your schedule. Plan and protect time to look ahead, learn and think – not a random gap when operational demands happen to lessen.
  2. Know the business cold. Understand the business strategy and how your team contributes. Know the market and how external trends are affecting you and your business.
  3. Get “out of the house”. Talk to others in your industry. Go to conferences or roundtables. Visit an innovative organization for new ideas. It’s hard to expand your horizons if you talk to the same people every single week.
  4. Read and watch. Read blogs, books, look at the research. Watch TedTalks and videos with new ideas. Keep learning. On any given topic – the access to information is enormous.
  5. Find a strategic advisor. Nothing beats a human connection with someone who knows how to do what you want to do. I have personally learned the most from conversations when an expert has helped me understand (at least some of) what they already know.
  6. Ask more questions. Innovation and strategy begin with curiosity and asking insightful questions. It is how we learn. Without asking questions you may create the perfect strategy for five years ago.

Being strategic can feel big and overwhelming. A few changes in how you spend your time will start you on your way.

Reserve the time. It may be the best gift you can give yourself.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @pattibjohnson