What it Means to Be Strategic
So what do executives mean when they ask you to be strategic? At a very high level, it means being able to see the big picture, not just of your department, but of the organization, industry, and marketplace. The higher you move within an organization, the easier it becomes to see the big picture. You have conversations at a higher level and are privy to information that applies to the entire organization (versus a more narrow focus on your specific area of responsibility). You also benefit from broader exposure to people who already think big picture.
Stephen R. Covey uses a metaphor of producers cutting through a jungle to help explain leadership and big-picture thinking:
Envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out. The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies, and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!” But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? “Shut up! We’re making progress.”
How to Be Strategic
To be strategic, not only does the leader need to separate himself from the work of the producers and managers to climb the tree, but he also requires the courage to report back on his findings—that what everyone is busily working at below is in no way contributing to the expedition because they are in the wrong jungle. And then to stand up to the managers who say “we’re making progress!”
As you begin to develop your strategic thinking abilities, here are 7 capabilities you should start developing:
1. Be a systems thinker. Know the big picture.
You must be able to articulate your company’s vision, mission, and/or purpose, and then connect it back to everything you and your team are doing. In other words, you are always thinking about the system (your organization) as a whole. Strategic leaders speak regularly about the company’s vision, and they ensure their people understand very clearly how the work of the team aligns with the vision.
2. Champion and spread evidence-based change.
As a strategic leader, you need to leverage data. All kinds of data! You will use data generated internally and external benchmark data. Data can come from reports, conversations, meetings, spreadsheets, whitepapers, predictive analytics, sales dashboards, and even the internet. As you build the case for change, you will reinforce your position through evidence-based (aka data) information.
3. Work transparently.
Don’t work behind academic language and uncommon techniques. Show how you go about making decisions. Offer transparent processes and insights that are not hidden in a black box no one can understand.
4. Always be benchmarking. Be aware of trends inside and outside of the company, and understand how to leverage them for the long-term good of the organization.
Strategic leaders know what’s happening in the marketplace and how it will impact the organization. If you don’t know where to start, try Google! There is a wealth of information available online, particularly if you work for a public company or compete with other public companies. At the very least, you should be as informed about your organization and market as the average consumer.
5. Anticipate the consequences of your decisions.
Not only do strategic leaders understand long-term consequences before making decisions, but they model that behavior for their team members to help direct reports build their own decision-making capabilities.
6. Carve out regular time for strategic thinking.
Strategic leaders schedule regular thinking time, away from distractions. Committing to regular thinking time, and really doing it, will make you more successful.
7. Leave space for error.
All people make mistakes and misjudgments—even strategic leaders. As a leader is forgiving of a direct report, allow yourself to make mistakes. And, more importantly, expect to make mistakes, but be agile and self-correct immediately.
These capabilities can be summed up as such: don’t live in a bubble. At home, you generally know your neighbors, the people in your community, what’s happening in your children’s schools, issues in the town, county, and state, etc. Apply a similar systems mindset to your work.
Observe how the course is doing against the vision, your key metrics, and the company’s position in the industry. Be nimble; act quickly when you observe that things aren’t going the way they should.
Understanding how others think is critical to influencing them and getting results. This ebook lists the top 10 things that a CEO cares about and provides a self-reflection point for each—download today!