How to Become a Better Leader by Improving Your Strategic Thinking Skills

How much time do you spend on strategic thinking?

If you’re like the majority of the professionals I come into contact with, the answer is, “not enough.”

Although strategic thought is something that is essential to success, the truth is, that most people don’t spend enough time focused on it. Instead, the seemingly more pressing tasks that crop up day-to-day tend to get the bulk of our immediate attention. As a result, visualizing, planning, strategizing, and other bigger picture considerations, often become after-thoughts.

In the Art of War, Chinese General, Sun Tzu, wrote “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” If you’re strong at tactics but need to incorporate more strategic thought into your work, here are some suggestions.

1. Set aside time

In my experience, a lot of professionals have so much on their plates, that they simply don’t allot time to strategic thinking. It’s the kind of thing that they know they should do, but because the results aren’t as immediate and tangible as checking an item off of your task list, they often don’t get to it. As a result, it never happens.

As a best practice, I recommend setting aside time on your calendar to devote to strategy. If you think you don’t have the time, then start small, with an hour per week.  Use that time to take a step back from the day-to-day to reflect on how things are going with your business, your team, and your career. By making strategic thought as much of a priority as the tactics, you’ll be able to ensure that it gets the attention it deserves.

2. Make sure your “cows and fences” are in order

There’s a saying that goes, “Are you too busy chasing your cows to build a fence?” In other words, are you spending so much time attending to crises that you aren’t focusing enough on identifying the underlying issues that are creating those crises? 

If you’re constantly dealing with fire drills, take a step back to try to figure out why. Is there a broken process that needs to be addressed? Or perhaps a process that needs to be put in place? Do you need to delegate more or develop your staff in order to free up your time to attend to higher level issues? Be on the lookout for these opportunities, so that you can ensure your business is operating at its peak.

3. Have a Commitment to Lifelong Learning

The best strategic thinkers I know are also the most intellectually curious. They’re the kind of people who are not content to just know what they already know – they have a hunger for knowledge in general. They read. They listen to podcasts. They take online courses. They love to learn for the sake of learning. 

In addition, they don’t limit themselves to their own field. Instead, they are open to learning just about anything. This helps them to think strategically, because strategic thinking involves considering things from multiple perspectives. The more you know and have been exposed to, the more potential ideas can spark. So, if you want to be more strategic, make sure that you are constantly learning.

4. Seek Others’ Advice

If you want to be strategic, you should be open to considering others’ perspectives. We all have blind spots and biases. Therefore, it’s a good practice to get others’ opinions. After all, that’s why diversity can result in better outcomes – people who have different viewpoints and ways of looking at the world, can help you to think about things that you hadn’t considered.

Don’t get stuck in confirmation bias, in which you favor information and opinions that confirm your own ideas, while defending yourself against opinions that challenge your views. Instead, when someone presents an alternate point of view, get curious. Actively consider their arguments – especially the ones that are different from your own. This may broaden your thinking, and enable you to come up with higher quality solutions to problems. 

5. Observe Trends

Observing trends and connecting the dots is another aspect of being a strategic thinker. If you’re someone who is intimidated by statistics, learn how to analyze data. If your department has metrics, familiarize yourself with it. Whether it’s knowing the financials, understanding turnover or employee engagement, or getting into the operational markers of your business, you’ll need to understand them, so that you can make informed conclusions based on what the data is telling you.

While data is going to be specific to your own industry, as a general rule observe the trends. What are the implications of it for your area? What about for others in the organization? What are the trends over the past year? The past few years? What does that suggest for the future? Understanding these trends will give you a sense of the areas that you’ll want to address as you plan for the future of your vision.

6. Communicate Strategically

Finally, people who think strategically are able to communicate in a logical way that others can follow. If you are looking ahead and making plans for your business, but do not know how to communicate these plans effectively, others may underestimate your skills. Therefore, work to be able to articulate the big picture, and then build your case as to why you have made certain decisions or are suggesting that certain strategies be implemented. Discuss your understanding of the metrics, and why taking certain actions are likely to have certain impacts on the business. Demonstrate that you have considered multiple sides of an issue and that you are looking to the future, while also being grounded in the present. 

Strategic thinking is foundational for maximizing your impact. So, block some time off on your calendar, and get started!

Strategic thought is just one aspect of being a well-rounded leader. To build your leadership skills in a wide range of leadership competencies – from execution, to culture, to inspiring your team, enroll in my Inspirational Leadership University online course.

Want to learn more? Click here.

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