Research published at the Harvard Business Review found that almost half of companies actually rewarded reactivity and discouraged thoughtfulness. Nearly all leaders (96%) claimed they lacked time for strategic thinking, because they were too busy putting out fires.
The best C-suite executives embrace strategic thinking as part of their regular routine. They intentionally take control of tomorrow by thinking about it today. They use their foresight to craft a strategy—thinking ahead with a design and a goal in mind. It might not be that easy, but leaders at all levels within the organization can take specific steps to get better at looking ahead.
What It Takes to Chart the Course
Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere. Empower the leaders and managers in your organization with these 5 steps for consistently improving the practice of strategic thinking.
1. Make reflection part of the daily schedule.
A leader’s day can easily become packed with meetings, emails, and phone calls, leaving little time to meditate on deeper questions about pressing issues. In this hectic environment, what look like no-brainer decisions may actually be knee-jerk reactions.
Reflective thinking requires intentional action and delivers at least 5 key benefits:
- It Gives True Perspective. When leaders reflect, they’re able to put an experience into perspective.
- It Gives Emotional Integrity in Your Thought Life. When leaders reflect, they distance themselves from the intense emotions of experiences and see them with fresh eyes.
- It Increases Your Confidence in Decision-making. When leaders reflect, they diffuse doubt and strengthen intuition over time.
- It Clarifies the Big Picture. When leaders reflect, they can put events into context and better learn about the future.
- It Makes Good Experiences Valuable Experiences. When leaders reflect, they turn experiences into insight.
2. Break down the issues.
Leaders who want to dream big—and achieve those dreams—must learn to think small-er. Henry Ford broke down his challenges based on function to create the assembly line. Projects may require a timetable, responsibility, or purpose break-down. The point is that everything needs to be broken down into more manageable pieces. Only one person in a million can juggle the whole thing in his head and think strategically to create solid, viable plans.
3. Ask why before asking how.
Asking why opens up a leader’s mind to possibilities never considered before. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak didn’t start by trying to figure out how to create the iPhone, they took time to explore their why—and the why naturally led to the how. Jumping directly into problem-solving mode can actually hurt a leader’s chances of devising lasting solutions with strategic thinking.
4. Create connections between ideas, plans, and people.
Most people keep their heads down as they plod through the daily workload. But leaders who do that will miss the best opportunities. A leader must guard against narrowing life to a checklist to finish or restricting thinking to the familiar and safe. The best strategic thinking leaders see everything as connected, a web of ideas and people offering the promise of potential and the possibility of synergy at every turn.
5. Be willing to make choices.
Strategic thinking often produces a lot of really good ideas. In the midst of that flood of new ideas, leaders must avoid the double-edged temptation—to try everything or become paralyzed by the options and do nothing. Tackling as many projects as possible may seem like a bold, leadership move, but it takes courage to close one door (for which you may be blamed) and open another door (for which you could get credit) rather than simply maintaining the status quo.
When engage these 5 steps consistently, you’ll see growth and innovation in your organization as you all move forward faster. The ability to think strategically and see ahead is critical to progressing through The 5 Levels of Leadership framework.