6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

March 6, 2013 |

6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers 6 Habits of True Strategic ThinkersMany business leaders are frustrated that they spend too much time on the day-to-day issues and not get around to the strategic part of their business. Here’s some tips on how to become the strategic leader your company needs.

If you find yourself resisting “being strategic,” because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you’re not alone.
Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front of you, things that make an immediate impact on the bottom line, and also because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.
This is a tough job, make no mistake. “We need strategic leaders in South Africa!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It’s hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.
Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:
Anticipate 
Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your business vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better
  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes (root cause analysis)
  • Challenge current beliefs and mind-sets, including your own
  • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously (Don’t just take things at face value)
  • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility.
  • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views. The Pareto principle applies in most cases where 20% of the analysis will give you 80% of the outcome and, by spending much more time and money on over analyzing to the end degree, you will in most cases reach the same outcome regarding the decision you need to take if you had stopped at 20% of the analysis.
  • Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden (It is sometimes not what you see or hear, but rather what you don’t see or hear)
  • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable (Make the tough calls)
  • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support
  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  • As a leader you must always encourage your team to ” Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, rather tell me how it really is”
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track (eliminate the red tape)
  • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight
Think Critically
“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herd like belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
Interpret 
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
Decide
Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:
Align
Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.  To pull that off, you need to:
Learn
As your business grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.   You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning.
 Make sure you set time aside to dedicate to strategic thinking – Good luck!

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