Strategic Thinking – The Key to Effective Leadership


35106808_sAre you a proactive or reactive thinker? Often the challenges of our work life and the number of balls we juggle each day don’t lend themselves to being strategic in our thinking. We can find our backs to the wall, forced to put out fires rather than being able to plan how to avoid the fires in the first place.

Robin Madell, contributor to the Glass Hammer has written an article entitled 6 Ways to Help Your Mentee Think Strategically.  Robin sites a study that examines the importance of being a strategic thinker:

2013 global study by Management Research Group (MRG) of 60,000 managers in more than 140 countries and 26 industries discovered that taking a strategic approach to leadership was around 10 times more important to how effective a leader was perceived to be. Strategic thinking was found to be twice as important as communication and nearly 50 times more important than tactical, hands-on leadership behaviors.

How do you move from putting out fires to being a more strategic thinker? As the title would suggestion, Robin offers six ways, but I want to focus on just two for a moment:

  • Encourage planning. Developing strategy takes time, which is why it’s often the first thing to go for a busy manager. Teach your mentee the importance of setting aside specific time on a regular basis to plan, both alone and with key colleagues.
  • Share information cross-functionally. Strategic thinkers aren’t siloed; they’re cross-functional. Mentors can help their charges have a bigger picture than the one they see in their own department. Work on sharing information across boundaries.

Without a doubt, making sure you schedule time for planning is really the only way to get out in front of fires. Setting aside time each day for your own personal assessment as well as creating a time for your team to proactively look at the near future from a strategic perspective is the first step to being an effective leader.

The second tip – get out of your department to learn the needs and goals of other departments and stepping back to see how the whole picture fits together is another very important way to strategically think. Look to the other department heads for assistance in sharing information across functions. Again, this is where planning in advance can help. Rather than being frustrated with the work product of another department because it is crunch time and not all the ducks are in a row; advance strategic planning across departments will allow you to see possible pitfalls before they become a fire that needs to be put out.

Kate Beatty penned an article for Forbes entitled the Three Strengths of a Strategic Leader:

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Strategic Acting
  • Strategic Influencing

For strategic influencing, Kate recommends you ask yourself a series of questions to gain better understanding:

–What will it look like if I succeed? What is my vision?

–Who else needs to be on board to make this successful? How will this solution or approach help (or hinder) the achievement of their goals and objectives?

–Are there other organizational systems, processes or structures that need to be in alignment to facilitate that change? What do I need to do to create that alignment?

–Are there any stories I can use when talking to others that illustrate how we need to behave and will inspire others to do so?

–How willing am I to let my vision be shaped by others’ visions?

–Who might I solicit to help me champion my efforts? How can I get them on board?

–What political realities might affect my success in this challenge? How might I navigate those realities without limiting my credibility?

Each of these questions requires an honest assessment of what you think, need and expect. I love the suggestion about stories. Offering real-life examples of how a specific procedure or strategy has worked (good or bad) in the past can help the others on your team truly imagine the outcome of the current situation.

Ultimately your team needs to be on board rather than coerced into compliance for the outcome to be lasting and also to set up an expectation of cohesive work in the future. Therefore, being strategic in influencing others is a valuable tool.

If your goal is to be viewed as an effective leader you will need to be strategic in how you think and act each day. Making sure you plan time to review current goals and long term expectations for potential opportunities is a great way to incorporate strategic thinking into your work process. Trust me, it won’t go unnoticed. While most of your peers are busy putting out fires, you will be anticipating the fires before the first whiff of smoke!

jj digeronimo

JJ DiGeronimo, the President of Tech Savvy Women, advanced from entry-level positions into leadership positions within technology companies. Through her keynotes and executive sessions, JJ shares effective leadership and inclusion strategies to retain, develop and advance professional women. JJ includes these experiences in her book new book “Accelerate Your Impact” which complements her 2011 book, “The Working Woman’s GPS.”  JJ has been quoted in numerous publications including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Fox Business.  She now shares her women in business expertise with Amazon, Ingram Micro, RIT, IBM, Clemson University, Symantec, VMware, Discover, KeyBank, and Cisco along with many other organizations.

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JJ DiGeronimo

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