In a recent survey, 97% of 10,000 senior leaders surveyed said that being strategic was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success—but another study indicated that fully 96% of leaders say they lack the time for strategic thinking.*
Leadership today is about more than being operationally effective, solving existing problems, and guiding people through the work that needs to be done each day. Leaders need to be able to execute daily tasks while also shaping the future. No matter which position you hold—senior leader, mid-level manager, front-line leader, or a leader of a group—your organization wants and needs you to be strategic.
While it’s clear that most leaders and individual contributors work hard to make their teams and organizations better, they are often so focused on short-term responsibilities in our instant-response world that they neglect to think about and act on priorities that will ensure longer-term success. More than ever, organizations expect leaders and individual contributors to be forward-thinking and proactive. They firmly believe that strategy is everyone’s job.
Because the expectations for leaders and individual contributors have shifted, there is growing appetite for insights into how to be more proactive and focused on strategic priorities. People are grasping for practical solutions to these challenges because the truth is, you can’t set yourself apart if you don’t think and act strategically. Here are four things you can start doing today to improve your strategic-thinking capabilities.
1. Manage your Time and Mind
Being overwhelmed by short-term tasks and daily responsibilities is one of the biggest obstacles to becoming more strategic. Without the discipline to set aside time and energy for thinking and acting strategically, it is difficult to make progress in this area. To be more proactive, you need to:
• Recognize that focusing on longer-term priorities and reflecting on the needs of the future is time well spent and creates long-term value.
• Prioritize operational tasks and activities to determine what can be eliminated, delegated, or postponed so you can create the time and space in your mind to consider strategic opportunities and threats.
• Reflect on the thought patterns that may be preventing you from shifting your perspective and taking ownership for your destiny—and then make a plan to overcome them.
2. Be Informed
Strategic people believe that knowledge gives us power. They are curious and seek to understand the strategic priorities of the business so they can better understand how to align their own strategic efforts with the direction of the broader organization. Work hard to stay informed about what is going on around you by tapping into valuable sources of information that will give you clues about where you need to go, opportunities that you can take advantage of, and things you may need to avoid.
3. Identify a Strategic Target
The future is not something you enter, it’s something you create. An important part of being strategic is having a specific strategic objective or priority that will help you shape the future. It should clarify what “winning” means for you and your part of the organization. If your strategic target is worthwhile, you will internalize it to the point that everything in you tells you it is worthy of your time and effort.
4. Be Persistent
It is easy to feel intimidated by a strategic initiative, even one you choose to pursue. You can counteract these feelings by breaking your strategic target down into incremental parts and focusing your energy and time on those individual pieces. Then, as you gain experience, you can pick up speed with the plan and allocate resources and energy to sustain the implementation. To achieve real results, you must find the internal discipline and resolve to stay focused over time.
The future is moving towards us with greater velocity, more complexity, and greater uncertainty, but our response to these challenges is a choice: we can either be complacent, driven by the forces of change or we can choose to be proactive, which puts us in the driver’s seat. To win, you and your organization need to anticipate what’s coming, drive the change forward, and invest in the future now.
*Harvard Business Review. Dorie Clark. If Strategy Is So Important: Why Don’t We Make Time for It? June 2018.