One common growth opportunity many of my coaching clients face is the need to think more strategically. This is true not only for senior leaders, but also mid-level managers throughout the organization. But how do you think strategically?
No matter what your job title, taking the necessary time for strategic thinking flies in the face of near-term accomplishments. For example, the 43 emails you responded to, 12 phone calls you made, budget you finalized, presentation you prepared, or the many meetings you attended. Strategic thinking is not about the number of items checked off your to-do list.
It’s harder to measure in the near term because outcomes may take months, years or never actually come about. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to take time for strategic thinking for your organization and for your career.
Strategic thinking can be generally defined as a mental or thinking process applied by individuals in the context of achieving a goal or set of goals.
Thinking strategically requires:
Notice & Seek Trends
To be strategic you need to gain a solid background and understanding of your organization, the industry it’s in, the competitive landscape, and the trends that are occurring. In this way you can provide a perspective from your area of expertise in the context of the larger organization and industry. Don’t underestimate your perspective as no one else has it and this can be consequential to important decisions being made.
Think Outside Your Silo
Thinking strategically requires that you think beyond your own department. By reaching beyond your direct scope of responsibilities, you are also likely to expand your area of influence. You will demonstrate great leadership by leading your department in service to the goals of the overall organization.
Divergent & Convergent
Use divergent thinking to imagine a future that diverges from convention and, at least temporarily, suspend your criticism and judgment. This provides the opportunity for brainstorming the wild and crazy that may ultimately provide novel solutions. Convergent thinking can then be used to narrow the options to one via deeper analysis, and ultimately choose the optimal way forward.
Nurture Peer Relationships
Focus on better understanding the challenges your peers are facing in their subject areas. The more you know what they are working on and what they are struggling with, the more you can work together to solve larger more complex issues. And the rapport you build with others will enable you to find further support in reaching goals.
Schedule & Remain Disciplined
It’s vital that you schedule and protect time for strategic thinking. Use the Eisenhower box in order to separate the urgent from the important so you can fit it into your already filled schedule. Stop attending meetings that don’t absolutely require you to be there. Delegate wherever possible.
Create an Optimal Space
Find a location away from your office where you can minimize distractions and stimulate creative thinking. Use this time to reflect, ideate and dream, but not to produce anything tangible right away. Some may find it’s better to partner with a valued thought-partner to shake things up when necessary.
Resist the Guilt Feelings
Fight back any guilt in doing this as it may take some getting used to the idea that this time is actually beneficial. You may have little to show for it at first, but eventually you will get results. I suspect simply dedicating this time will increase your ability to reflect, and that alone can be extremely beneficial to thinking more strategically.
Taking the steps above can lead to you thinking more strategically, which will increase your overall leadership capacity. Resist the temptation to dabble in the practice now and then. Like a fitness program or meditation practice, positive results depend on your ability to stick with it and make it a consistent part of your job.