Climb the strategic ladder

One of the hallmarks of great strategic thinkers and leaders is the ability to look at things from a different vantage point and enhance their awareness about the things going on around them. What this does is allow you to look at things in a new way and be better positioned to find strategic opportunities and threats that will influence your short-term and long term success.

Because to see is one thing, but to perceive and understand is another. Being equipped with information and intelligence will always give you a strategic advantage and isn’t that what we all want and need?

We all know how difficult it can be to get out of the fray of operational demands and fulfilling short-term expectations. Who really has time to easily step away from today’s tasks to think about the future and investigate strategic opportunities? Let’s face it—not many of us have that luxury.

However, if we can remind ourselves of the benefits that come from having greater strategic awareness, we may be more motivated to carve out some time to do it.  Obviously, the primary benefit that we all share is that we are prepared for a better future and aren’t caught off guard by things that could have been within our own control. But for you specifically, answer this question:

How will you benefit from getting on your strategic ladder and looking out at the strategic landscape?

Stepping out of the rush of everyday work life and looking at things more broadly requires discipline and determination—a determination to not get controlled by operational distractions that prevent you from shaping your future.

Our applied research tells us that the biggest challenge that you will face as a strategic thinker is being able to concentrate on the future so you can find breakthrough ideas that will help you add additional value to your team and organization. Today’s business world places a great deal of value on tactical efficiency, often at the expense of long term viability.

Recently, we have been working with a young plant manager of a large food production organization. He has discovered that in order to stay relevant in his field and add value to the organization, he and his leadership team have to figure out how to continue to reinvent themselves and do things better, faster, and cheaper.

This visionary leader knows that in order to do that, he has to step away from his current point of view and look at things with a strategic mindset.  Doing so will build his awareness about potential strategic opportunities and threats that may be coming at him and his plant. But like most of us, it is hard to dedicate the time and discipline ourselves to look at the big picture so we don’t miss strategic opportunities that will give us an advantage.

This plant manager realized he needed to do something different; he needed to find a way to become more aware of the strategic issues that could impact the long term results. His solution to this dilemma is to set aside 90 minutes every two weeks where he gets to gather with his team to talk about strategic issues and explore all dimensions of the world they operate within so they are better positioned to pick the right strategic path and counteract obstacles they may encounter that could derail their strategic objectives.

It isn’t always easy — They have to actively resist the temptation to discuss current issues and challenges.  But, what they have been able to do is start a routine of stepping back and looking up and out so they can continue reinventing their function and contribution to the organization as a whole.

I recommend starting with some simple questions that will help you start climbing the strategic ladder and build your awareness about what is going on around you.

  • Find the time and space that works best for you to think and reflect and is free from distractions.
  • Set a regular appointment with yourself and/or your team.
  • Think about your operation or function from a broader point of view. What is threatening them or could cause them to calcify or become obsolete over time?
  • Reflect on your customers (internal and external) and stakeholders. What are their changing needs and expectations?  Who will your future customers be?
  • Scan the environment you operate within. What factors could be disruptive to your strategic direction? What are the hidden opportunities that you could take advantage of?
  • Evaluate changes coming at you. How will those changes impact you (positively or potentially negatively)?

If you can step out of the daily tactical battle to find regular ways to get a bird’s-eye view, you will have a better chance of surviving and prospering.  Remember what we are unaware of tends to control us. Find ways to take control and be in the driver’s seat as you navigate your future.


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About the Author
Stephanie Mead
Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.

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