Innovative and rapidly developing technologies have created a “need for speed” in all aspects of our lives. Leaders are faced with incredible pressures to deliver immediate results, to do more with less, and to manage an ever-increasing personal workload. The pace and urgency of daily demands can make it difficult to see more than a step ahead. Now, more than ever, leaders and individual contributors alike must be able to look beyond short-term needs, gain a strategic perspective, and act on that perspective.
What is Strategic Thinking?
Strategic Thinking is the ability to anticipate, prepare, and get positioned for the future. It is the ability to mobilize and focus resources and energy and be better able to arrive at creative solutions while overcoming obstacles. It is the courage to think deeply about where you are going and what you want to achieve. Applied strategic thinking is creativity, intuition, and specific plans to help you reach your destiny. Strategic people think and act before they have to, before they are forced to take up a defensive or reactive position.
Human beings have the capacity to think broadly and beyond the immediate; therefore, we can choose to think consciously and deliberately about the future and the big picture. Unless we change the current knee-jerk mentality so prevalent in business and develop our thinking capacity more fully, our level of success will remain flat and may even come to an end. This is why organizations expect leaders and individual contributors develop their strategic thinking capability.
What is Strategic Leadership
Strategic leadership means being responsible for the future, as well as for what is happening today. A primary goal of a leader is to gain a better understanding of current business conditions, the environment (markets, customers, competitors, etc.), and leading indicators that identify new trends and transformations that will arise.
A leader must be tuned in to the signals that provide insight about the needs and wants of team members, senior management, and suppliers. As a leader, you must know who your customers (internal or external) are, why they come to you, what they will be looking for in the future, and how your field is changing. A leader must understand how each competitor affects the strategic landscape, what products they offer, and how customers see them.
However, society in general, is addicted to short-term thinking, and many knowledge workers think productivity equals how busy we are (high productivity = being busy). Too many people are personally caught up in a short-cycle, stimulus/response mode of thinking and working. We worry more about managing our to-do lists, what will happen this week, whether we’ll make our numbers, getting a product launched on time, or how to get equipment fixed to meet a deadline.
We see sales numbers on a certain product decline and react quickly with a short-term focus and perspective. We put out the urgent fires and fail to think about the longer-term impact of our behaviors and attitudes. This perspective removes strategy from our thinking.
We continue to do what we’ve always done, without regard for the changing conditions that may make short-sighted solutions irrelevant to tomorrow’s problems. We simply overlook opportunities and do not provide time for innovative, strategic solutions. Unfortunately, our goal becomes surviving the next crisis. We manage today at the expense of the future.
A Strategic Mindset
The general challenge knowledge workers face is that no one will give us the time, or encourage us to take the time, to consider strategic issues. The reality is that we have to make a conscious choice to carve out a regular opportunity to look to the future. We have to shift gears, slow down, and regularly focus our minds toward the future.
When you develop a strategic mindset, you establish a pattern of discipline, allowing you to think and plan ahead of the curve. You anticipate and prepare a planned and orchestrated response when a competitor threatens your strategic position. You eliminate unpleasant surprises, firefighting, and adverse consequences. You identify new technologies, methods, or approaches that will increase your effectiveness and reduce costs.
With a strategic approach, you will confidently set aside your daily urgencies and look to the horizon, creating numerous advantages for yourself, your team, and your entire organization. A strategic mindset will allow you to create value and be the knowledge worker or leader your organization needs to survive and thrive now and in the future.