It sounds simple enough: Hire and promote the best among us. Do what you must to entice high performers who are competent in areas of leadership, strategy, strategic thinking, etc. Find the superstars – the industry rock stars – and get them to lead your teams. And when you can’t find or recruit them, do your best to develop them, hope for them and even steal them when necessary to ensure your organization holds a strategic and competitive advantage to achieve success.
Oh, but my clients – and my own management experiences – tell me it’s not so simple. Words like strategy, strategic thinking, strategic thinker and strategic leadership have all become part of the latest array of buzzwords that managers use in executive and team meetings and candidates put on their résumés without truly understanding the nuts and bolts of it all.
Strategic thinking is a highly sought skill. Whether you are the executive trying to put together a strategic leadership team or the applicant on the prowl for your next position or promotion, this is useful information for you. There are several things you can do to show that you are a strategic thinker. You can practice these six habits of true strategic thinkers as well as demonstrate the following three unmistakable signs of strategic thinking.
1. Strategic Thinkers Make Better Decisions By Being More Reflective
Strategic thinkers do it differently. They understand and dig deeper with regards to analyzing processes, developing and applying performance metrics, collecting data and producing analytics to make more informed decisions. Strategic thinkers have high levels of critical thinking skills. When it comes to decision making, they are more contemplative and ask more thoughtful questions like the ones listed below. They challenge themselves, colleagues, employees, supervisors and executives to consider answers for these questions.
Strategic thinkers are more observant and reflective than the average person. Here are some questions they might process through and consider in order to make better decisions for any particular issue, problem, event or strategy.
- Why do I/we need to care about this issue? Or, what prompted the need for this decision to be made?
- What happens if I/we don’t decide on this issue? Is the status quo acceptable? Why or why not?
- What outcomes are we trying to achieve? Who cares about them and why?
- What are my/our biases, prejudices, interests or values? Are they congruent with the defined decision options?
- Whom will this decision mostly affect? How?
- What are the positive and negative consequences of this decision? What is this based on?
- Who are the short-term and long-term beneficiaries? Who gets to define them?
- What is the worst result this decision can bring? Can I/we live with that?
- What are forces for or against this decision? Do I/we care? Why or why not?
- What is the second choice/option or fallback position? Is it viable, and how do I/we know?
2. Strategic Thinkers Advance Their Careers By Being Better Leaders
Strategic thinkers are – more often than not – all over leadership. Not all great thinkers are great leaders, but the ones who are leadership material are likely better leaders than those who fail to think strategically. The sum of the whole is much greater than the individual parts.
Strategic leadership is what happens when leaders move beyond the role of having and communicating a vision to fully understanding, thinking about, planning and executing the necessary strategies to realize it. I further define it as what happens when we are exploring, deciphering and interpreting the best concepts for achieving organizational excellence, anticipating and responding to change and aligning organizational systems, processes and people with enhanced services and/or products.
But it’s not just about your organization. If you want to advance your brand and your career, be more strategic. When an individual is being ‘strategic’ about it, she is focused on and considers both the hard and soft side of the system and weighs the implications and consequences of decisions to determine whether or not they impact and affect the team’s ability to accomplish strategic outcomes.
If you are doing this – connecting the dots and taking into account the entire system – you are being a strategic thinker who also demonstrates exceptional leadership. These two competencies together are what we know to be strategic leadership.
To learn more specific things that strategic thinkers do to get promoted, read the companion article to this one “3 Things Strategic Thinkers Do To Get Hired In Senior Management Positions.“
3. Strategic Thinkers Demonstrate Organizational Value By Creating More Strategic Thinkers
To demonstrate their value to the team and the organization, strategic thinkers ask questions that reveal their propensity for and commitment to strategy. It is important to find and balance the value in strategic thinking. You can’t ignore strategy and be a strategic thinker. You can’t disregard the importance of delivering value as a leader and be a strategic thinker. And you can’t be too busy to make it a priority to develop a culture where others are encouraged to do the same. Strategic thinkers are the ones in the organization who ponder and prompt questions that are designed to create even more strategic thinkers.
- What is my/our strategic vision, and what are the associated objectives and corresponding goals to realize it?
- What is our organization’s next turn in the road, and how will I/we ensure that we don’t miss it?
- What is our human capital strategy, and how does it align with organizational strategy – if at all?
- Who are our primary internal and external stakeholders? What methods do we use to listen to them?
- What most drives and influences my/our decision making? Why? How?
- Which strategic analysis model do we apply (i.e., SWOT, value chain, resource-based view, other) to assess the internal and external environments? Why this particular one? Would something else work better? How?
- What is our value proposition? What value do we create, and can a sustainable competitive or differentiated advantage be achieved? How?
- Why should the other strategic partners do business with me/us? What is in it for them?
- Doing more with less is a failing strategy. What does my/our department/division/unit need to keep doing, start doing or stop doing? Why? What must I/we do differently? How?
- What permissions do I/we give those I/we lead to disagree with and challenge me/us?
- Are we comfortable leading across and upwards? How do we demonstrate it in this organizational culture?
- What are the accountabilities? Does the culture encourage 360-degree accountability? How?
- When it comes to performance management, what are our common standards for behavior? Who defined these and why? Was team input involved?
- What is our ROI for human capital? Consider the ROI for both a return on investment and return on intelligence. Do we need to modify our human capital strategy? Why? How?
- What is the most powerful thing I/we can do tomorrow to build/execute/advance the organizational and/or operational strategy? Why? What do we need to access or leverage in order to do this? What are the obstacles?
Again, the benefits of strategic thinking are twofold. The advantage is not just for achieving organizational goals. Strategic leaders – individuals who demonstrate their competence and talent to both lead and think strategically – have a unique advantage when it comes to owning their careers as well as leading their organizations. If you apply these strategic thinking principles to areas of career advancement, salary negotiations, relationship development, networking, performance agreements and brand development, you will surely experience immense professional benefit.
Terina Allen is a strategist, consultant, international speaker and the CEO of ARVis Institute, a management consulting and executive/leadership development firm.