(NOTE: This post is an excerpt from a longer White Paper on Strategic Thinking.)
Leaders change things. At least we’re supposed to. We’re supposed to drive the business from A to B, move people from groups to teams, and develop ourselves from leading by default to leading by design. In a nutshell, our job as leaders is to recognize and overcome stasis when we must. We must encourage ec-stasis – transformation of the status quo so that the business and our team can achieve success. To lead change we need to be able to think strategically.
The problem before us is that strategic thinking is not something that comes naturally to many or most of us. For most of us, our thinking tends to be focused on the near term. We think about the tasks before us today or those that need to be completed in a week, a month, or perhaps a quarter. There is also the reality that, without discipline our thinking and decision-making is reactive and influenced by our capacity (or lack thereof) for emotional self-management. Another factor in our inability to think strategically is the fact that as we age we lose our sense of curiosity. We become knowers instead of learners.
These tendencies, a short-term focus, reactivity, and a lack of curiosity combine to thwart our desire to think and act strategically. The implication is that we experience a gap between strategic thinking and strategic doing (intelligent action) and we develop a pattern of thinking and doing that is counterproductive to driving successful change. We race from A to B downloading old solutions onto current situations. We develop the “ready, fire, aim” mindset and our thinking and doing become more and more operational or tactical as we do what is most expedient in the near term and soothes the heightened emotional state we are in due to our reactivity. A serious consequence of this pattern is that we become static, fixed in time and space. The longer this pattern goes on the wider the gap between strategic thinking (when it occurs) and strategic action can become. So if it is not natural for us, how do we develop our capacity to think and act more strategically?
Strategic thinking requires a shift in mind set, development of a strategic thinking skill set, and for many of us (at least for a time), utilization of a strategic thinking and doing tool set. When we decide to think and act strategically we are choosing to transform the status quo, to intentionally disrupt the system – we are encouraging ec-stasis.
Transformative leaders who excel at strategic thinking do six things well:
- Be Present. Respond rather than react. Develop the emotional intelligence to give yourself time to engage in critical thinking.
- Be Observant. See trends and indentify opportunities to work across boundaries to create value. Look for industry and business information that could change the game. Look to expand your network to see farther and wider than you could on your own.
- Be Creative. Reframe situations and problems. Look to discover the problems under the problems. Look for the patterns under events.
- Be Innovative. Encourage a learner mindset. Question assumptions. Consider multiple scenarios and invite multiple perspectives when exploring possible courses of action.
- Be Strategic. Set goals. Align people around clearly defined, achievable actions that disrupt the status quo.
- Be Purposeful. Develop plans. Have a preference for action. Decide. Plan. Execute.
The feedback from leaders who work to develop this mindset and skill set has been consistent. Focusing on developing these skills helps leaders grow their capacity for self-management; they become more proactive and less reactive. They become more intentionally curious. They begin to lead in a way that positively disrupts the status quo and creates the possibility for ec-stasis.
Leading change is not easy. If we are going to lead change successfully, we have to begin thinking strategically. To think strategically will require us to change ourselves. Change begins when we decide to develop ourselves. Change occurs when we discipline ourselves to practice a new mindset and skill set every day. The first step to more strategic thinking and doing is to become strategic regarding our own development as leaders. Once on the path, it becomes a matter of daily review and revision. In this regard our strategy for our own development is the same as our strategy for our business and our people; it’s dynamic and evolving.