So You Want to be a Strategic Thinker

So much of our time as leaders is spent reacting to urgent tactical problems. Very little of our activity is focused on reflection. The result is that we produce great short-term results but sacrifice significant strategic thought.

I talked with a country manager of a tech company and asked her how she divided her time between tactical and strategic effort. Her response was “What I should or what I actually do?” I indicated the latter and she gave a telling reply. “Tactical 98% Strategic 2%.” No wonder she was not leading her organization into the future.

My next step was to ask her to evaluate the consequences of continuing to neglect reflective thought. Again she was very clear. “We will lose market share and the competition will eat our lunch”

What this tech executive told me was so typical of many leaders who seem to live their lives on speed dial with a focus primarily on the present. The solution to being a more effective strategic thinker is to,

Take time to reflect.

This is accomplished by,

  1. Carving out time. Not every organization will give you “creative” time to explore ideas that are not directly connected to current initiatives. However, this does not mean that you cannot take time out (away from emails, meetings, or sheer busy work) to reflect. You may, for instance, take a walk at the lunch break and carry 3X5 cards and record random ideas related to key questions. Let them come without letting your inner critic censor them. You can sort them out for significance at a later date.
  1. Learning the right question. The focus of this reflective time needs to be around key questions that will take you solidly into the future. The question is formulated as a response to a statement like “Imagine when the customer needs drive all our actions and not just old company policies or formulas”
  1. Rewarding people for futuristic thinking. Informally people are rewarded for talking about the future of their organization. They are often placed on committees where strategy is being discussed. However it would encourage more reflective thought if this type of thinking was considered in performance evaluations and promotion decisions.
  1. Making the message clear and compelling. The other day I received a statement of an organization’s future aspiration. I had to dig deeply for the core of the message. What I read was convoluted and abstract. Learning to be concise, clear, and emotionally compelling is the heart of any effective strategy statement.

So start thinking reflectively and increase your ability to help your organization see around the corner into the future.

Also, get more people to respond to your ideas rather than react against them if those ideas are based on a burning strategic question.


 What personal practices have helped you be more reflective?

 What key questions have shaped your strategy?


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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