Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking is a vital part of the Leading with Vision Key Step, because by growing skills beyond those of a typical manager, effective leadership evolves to a new level of development – and ultimately performance.

Using this tool takes leaders from the bear-pit of day-to-day existence, towards a joyful and much better future whatever their management status or seniority. Strategic Thinking breaks the chains that currently anchor you in survival mode.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”

Sun Tsu – Chinese Military Strategist

Ever made up one of those take home kits of flat pack furniture – without looking at the guidance notes (we all have haven’t we :-)). And then sheepishly gone back to the instructions – even taken a few of the wrong size screws back out, because we had used the wrong ones? That’s the tactics/strategy difference (sometimes described as a ‘guy’ thing!).

Top Ten Things About Strategic Thinking

To raise the bar on your business performance, from where you are now, requires a level of Strategic Thinking which, in perfect tune with Visioning, creates a structured and progressive way forward.

The best at Strategic Thinking

  1. Have a Vision
    They are great at both thinking with a strategic purpose and creating a Visioning  process. They have both tools in their kit and they use both to complement each other.
  2. Make Time
    In a busy businesses and organisations, be they small or large, making the time is  Vital. At the top of their game these leaders take time out. Maybe a retreat maximum points!); maybe a day in a hotel foyer; maybe an afternoon somewhere/anywhere, with a blank sheet and a thinking hat on. Whatever works for them – but they do it.
  3. Are Not Hasty
    The clue is in the description, Strategic Thinking is not about today, tomorrow or next week. In close partnership with Visioning these two create the tomorrows of the future. But not tomorrow! This is shaping, coaxing, tuning for a quality business performance in the years to come. Take time to develop it – think strategically!
  4. Absorb
    They are truly aware. In any business, there are clues, often subtle, both internal and external to help guide future direction and realise opportunities. Great Strategic Thinkers take all of this in so that as they set aside time to think, they have a full deck of information to guide them.
  5. Review Often
    Great Strategic Thinkers check that their thinking has been validated. This activity is a moving target, so to build a better understanding,
    snapshots are very useful to confirm the quality of the thinking – and absorbed into the skillset.
  6. Learn from Experience
    Over time, these folk use their experience to think better on strategic issues. This makes their use of this time really efficient and particularly effective. There are learned short-cuts to the Strategic Planning process and experience is a valuable asset.
  7. Use a Team
    By utilising more than their own brain (though this is vital for some of the process!) those great at Strategic Thinking bounce ideas off others in the workplace and encourage their input above and beyond their delivery of the day job.
  8. Are Realistic
    Although they creates ideas very openly, they have a sense of realism and honesty about what is achievable in the longer term. This is not to hold them back; more it is to deliver success. They underpromise and overdeliver.
  9. Have Clear Milestones
    As a bolt on to 5. above, by creating tests in their thinking to check progress, they have the opportunity to tweak. They have an innate ability to spot the twists and turns necessary.
  10. Don’t Judge
    …because their route to a successful future is not bounded by judging their thinking as they think up ideas – that is for elsewhere. They have open minds and test the detail later.

Ten Ways to be Better at Strategic Thinking

  1. Spend Time Visioning
    This is a cart and horse point – Visioning or Strategic Thinking first? Maybe it doesn’t matter as it’s the mindset that’s important here. Do both. Be clear on the goals and outputs using both sets of development process. Note of caution – if you have done the Strategic Thinking, how do you avoid influencing the Vision?
  2. Make Time to Think
    You need space and time – both physically and mentally for this work. So don’t skimp here. Make special time for yourself and your people.
  3. Step Back
    You have to have a ‘helicopter view’ here. So be prepared to step outside the business to get clear about where you go. Literally – walk outside the door and view who you are and where you are positioned/positioning yourself.
  4. Check the Competition
    You can learn and absorb from others – so switch on your sensory organs (all of them) and go experience them.
  5. Watch your Market
    If there was any time on this planet, now is the time things are moving the fastest. The speed of change in markets is the speed of
    light – literally as electrons whiz e-mails and information round – and you have that at your fingertips. Switch those antennae on and be alert to opportunities – and threats. Do it enough and it will become second nature.
  6. Know What You Influence
    Keep focus on what you can and can’t change. Do your Strategic Thinking within the area you have full responsibility and influence over. Dump the time you could spend on ‘someone else’s issues’. Get efficient in your thinking space.
  7. Create a Plan
    As part of your Strategic Thinking, start the planning process at least in your mind. Thinking is part of a planning process, so to have time in your mind as you do it is natural.
  8. Be Your Own Customer
    What do you want your business to be? In preparation for your Strategic Thinking, live the experience of your customers or clients. Be in the queue. Listen to the canned music ‘on hold’ (there are more!). Experience the service performance.
  9. Practice What-If
    Hey, dream a little. Get into a ‘what-if’ mindset – and go for perfection. Your strategy should target your vision – by using what-ifs in a constructive and ‘real possibility’ way, you will be able to step-by-step formulate your strategy alongside. (see 6. above)
  10. Speculate a Little
    And there will be those flyers to take. Whilst a strategic direction need not be a $1Bn purchase, there are some risks worth taking – so have a bit of fun here.

5 Simple Actions You Can Take Today!

  • Write a page from a point in the future about your desired experience in your organisation on that day. Be very descriptive about it. Use all of your senses.
  • Ring-fence one hour in the next week to think about your strategy for your business for the next year.
  • Start talking ‘what-ifs’ with your people and get them thinking strategically too.
  • Identify some, say quarterly, milestones which would move your business forward significantly.
  • Ask yourself the following:- ‘What would I want from this business if I were a customer; client; employee; shareholder; old person; young person; etc?’ Find 25 of these stakeholders and see from their point of view. Checkout Stakeholder Management.

Read some great books – like:-

“Time to Think” – Nancy Kline
“Slack” – Tom De Marco
“Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers” – Gerald A. Michaelson