If you’re someone who has struggled to develop strategic solutions or at least grappled with communicating them properly, then the ability to think strategically sounds like it may have eluded you.
Similarly, if you tend to take your time, play it safe and avoid risks when it comes to decision making, then strategic thinking is something that might not always come naturally to you.
The good news is that strategic thinking is a skill that can be learned just like any other. What’s more, for those in leadership positions it can greatly benefit the performance of both your team and the business as a whole.
Below, we’ll delve into what strategic thinking is, what goes into it and how you can begin sharpening up your ability to think more strategically in the future.
What is strategic thinking?
Strategic thinkers can join the dots that other thinkers might not be able to see. And while that might sound a little abstract, it underpins what strategic thinking is all about, i.e., creating connections between ideas, plans and people which aren’t immediately apparent.
A more fluid definition of strategic thinking may be the ability to do the following:
– Having a broader view of the bigger picture when it comes to the structure of teams and company hierarchy
– Being prepared for marketplace upheavals and identifying opportunities to capitalise on these changes
– Using resource limitations to their advantage to make difficult decisions so that teams can reach their goals
Specifically, strategic thinking skills touch on strong analytical abilities, communicating and collaborating effectively to ensure proper alignment throughout the team, effective problem-solving skills, and then being able to put the solutions identified into practice.
Elements of strategic thinking
The array of skills that make up strategic thinking means there are many different elements at play in the mind of a strategic thinker. According to leadership expert Paloma Cantero-Gomez, this toolbelt features the following qualities…
Strategic thinkers know what they need to achieve, using logic and creativity to plot a course that helps them reach these goals with commitment and drive.
With objectives and action plans close to hand, each broken down into a framework of tasks, timelines and resources, strategic thinkers formulate frameworks that will help them succeed. And they’ll have contingency plans if things don’t go as well expected.
Self-aware and reflective, they can consider different points of view, observing the words and opinions of others before making decisions.
There isn’t much room for doubt in the strategic thinker’s mind. They rarely hesitate or second guess, instead using their communication skills to make their orders clear – without steamrolling the points of view of others on their team.
That said, they’re far from stubborn. As self-aware thinkers, they know what their weaknesses are and they’re happy to go to others for advice, adjusting their frameworks as needed, if necessary.
That same self-awareness means they’re conscious of their emotions. In response to both positive and negative feedback, they are considered and mannered, using the opinions of words constructively as a way of progressing toward their goals.
Rather than rushing in or jumping to conclusions, the strategic thinker uses their considerable patience to aid their long-term vision.
How to develop strategic-thinking skills
Stop focusing on execution
With strategy, there’s the journey and there’s the destination. If you’re overly concerned with the journey i.e., the execution of tasks, then you might find things a struggle.
If so, your schedule is probably so packed with tasks that it leaves little time for you and your team to properly advance in other ways. Here’s where you should start delegating. If there’s anything on your to-do list that you feel others can use as a learning opportunity, then don’t be afraid to hand these instances over.
Similarly, are there any meetings you can have someone else attend in your place? When you give yourself greater boundaries, you have more time to focus on the things that truly need your attention.
Start prioritising more
As a leader, problems and opportunities come in thick and fast. Some will be worth pursuing, some won’t. What’s important is that you have the ability to focus on the instances that will advance your core objectives.
To do this, you need to get used to saying no when you need to. If something doesn’t add value to the company or get you closer to your goals, then it’s not worth putting in the time and effort to pursue it.
Look for solutions rather than problems
The mark of any strategic thinker is the ability to highlight a problem and provide potential solutions. In doing so, there’s an inherent optimism to the approach; you focus on what’s going well and what’s possible, rather than what’s going wrong.
If you’re used to things being right first time, then overcoming this way of working is important. And that might mean opening yourself up to uncertainty.
It can be uncomfortable but could well be highly beneficial in the long term.
Listen to others
As we stated above, strategic thinkers are open to others’ opinions and viewpoints. Their ideas are far from monolithic, and believing they are can end up being an (easily avoidable) burden.
Soliciting ideas from a diverse range of people, on the other hand, is a great way of developing your own strategic thinking skills. Get in the habit by inviting team members to brainstorming meetings with some ideas of their own, or by digging deeper into the problems they approach you with.
Examples of strategic thinking
– Gaining as much information as possible about a particular problem or situation as possible in order to gain a fuller understanding of how the situation should be approached.
– Planning for potential future challenges by creating a plan to deal with them in the event that they arise. Thinking back to previous situations and identifying the problems that took place can help with this, as can seeking guidance from others who have been in similar scenarios before.
– Coming up with ideas that are more outside-of-the-box than you may be used to. While some ideas may make more sense than others, by having a list of potential solutions, you can whittle away at them by assessing them in a logical manner.
– As well as asking others for help, you can challenge your own approach by weighing up opposing methods you wouldn’t usually use. By doing so, you develop a more objective perspective by weighing up the pros and cons of your usual methods and these opposing processes.
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