The ability to think strategically is the one leadership skill that can set your team and your business apart. Business has changed rapidly in the last 10 years, product lifecycles have shortened, outsourcing has reorganised entire sectors, real time marketing and social media are mainstream tools and the world’s trading stage is becoming increasingly easier to access.
Every company is applying innovativeness, influence, communication skills and technology to enhance their ability to get things done. However, you can distinguish your business by showing you can think (and act) strategically.
A Strategic Approach to Leadership
Last year, Management Research Group (MRG) did a global study evaluating the leadership practices and effectiveness of 60,000 managers and executives in 140+ countries and 26 industries. The leading observation was that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviours studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behaviour) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical performance.
The MRG study found that strategic leaders have a particular mindest that sets them apart.
Mindset of Strategic Leaders
- Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead and planning.
- They are able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what needs to be accomplished over time and what has to happen now; in six months; in a year and in three years, to achieve those goals.
- Strategic leaders also are able to think systemically. They are able to identify the impact of decisions on various segments of the business and on customers.
Develop Strategic Thinkers in Your Business
The ability to think strategically is not a skill as such that can be taught – it’s more a mindset or a way of thinking. As a leader in your business, you can create an environment that encourages and fosters strategic thinking in your leadership teams.
Open and honest communication is vital. It is essential to build a deep level of trust within your teams. This way everyone will feel that they can speak freely and will have a genuine interest in the bigger strategic questions facing the business.
7 Strategic Thinking Tips
- Get managers to set a regular time aside for strategic planning – this ‘think time’ needs to happen both alone and with their peers. A strategic approach takes time, so make it an ongoing, required aspect of their job.
- Information – lots of it, shared regularly, is vital. In order for managers to evaluate their thinking beyond the day-to-day, they need to know what’s happening in your sector, the wider market, with your customers, competitors and what new technologies/products/services are influencing your business.
- Share internal information across all areas of the business. Cross-functional teams can work on strategic organisational issues, and the results of their thinking and efforts should be recorded and shared across the business.
- Connect managers with strategically thinking mentors/consultants to help guide and encourage them to look outside the square.
- Share the company’s broader strategy, goals, mission and philosophies so individuals and teams stay focused on the big picture and incorporate the company’s strategies into their own thinking.
- Reward people for evidence of thinking. Part of the strategic process is anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems. For example, reward managers for being able to quickly generate several solutions to a potential problem and then identifying the solution with the greatest long-term benefits.
- Promote a strategic thinking culture. Encourage everyone to ask probing questions. When a course of action is suggested, ask the team to consider what underlying strategic goal it serves, and what the impact will be on the company and its customers.
As a leader in your business, you can encourage everyone in the business to anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align and learn. These behaviours will lead to a strategic path forward. Prioritising ‘think time’ and encouraging managers to take a strategic approach will set you and your business apart. And (as I have seen time and time again) be the difference between average and exceptional leadership, growth and success.
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