Thinking & Acting Strategically: A Critical Leadership Skill
When hiring or promoting someone into a key executive position, CEOs and board members typically look for candidates with interpersonal effectiveness and the ability to think and act strategically. At the senior level, technical competence is a given. It’s hard to climb the ladder if you are not technically qualified. However, whether you are a full-time executive working on daily issues or a consultant hired to work on a major problem, your ability to think and plan ahead will elevate you above the pack and earn you the respect of your boss or clients. The ongoing challenge for all busy executives is to avoid being consumed by the daily grind of just putting out burning fires and to look ahead.
People who think strategically reassess their business environment periodically. At a corporate level, they evaluate the company’s strategy, customers, competition, and industry trends. At the department level, they analyze the department’s internal challenges and positions. Next, they gather and assess extensive information to estimate the changes that must be made today in order to generate the desired results tomorrow. Strategic thinking is an ongoing process.
Good strategic thinkers:
- Identify relationships, patterns, and trends while noticing patterns across seemingly unrelated events, and categorize related information to reduce the number of issues with which one must grapple.
- Think creatively by generating alternatives, visualizing new possibilities, challenging assumptions, and opening themselves to new information.
- Analyze data while prioritizing the most important information.
- Prioritize action steps to stay focused on key objectives while handling multiple demands and competing priorities.
- Make trade-offs while understanding the potential advantages and disadvantages, as well as short-term and long-term consequences, of an idea or course of action.
Leaders can develop strategic thinking ability by practicing:
- Curiosity: being genuinely interested in what transpires in your company, department, industry, and wider business environment
- Flexibility: trying new approaches and ideas when new information suggests the need to do so
- Future focus: thinking about your company’s operational conditions that may change
- Alertness: be open to potential opportunities that may prove valuable in the future — as well as threats that may be looming
- A positive outlook: viewing challenges as opportunities and believing that success is possible
- Openness: welcoming new ideas from others, including outside stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and business partners
- Self-expansion: continually working to broaden your knowledge and experience, which will help you see connections and patterns across seemingly unrelated fields of knowledge
In today’s business environment, someone who can think and act strategically proves that they are committed to their company’s operations and goals. Strategic thinkers tackle problems efficiently and creatively and are not threatened by challenges. These are the types of people CEOs and board members look to hire or elevate within the company, so make sure you do what you can to fill those shoes.