Strategic Thinking – A vital art for all leaders.
19 Oct 2015

Strategic Thinking – A vital art for all leaders.


categories: Leadership, Strategic Alignment, Strategic Execution, Teamwork & Team Building

What sets successful leaders apart from their peers? How do they create work environments that not only foster a positive atmosphere, but crucially, garner more business? The key lies in strategic leadership.

If you cannot see a way forward you will have a challenge as a leader. Strategic leaders know their objectives. Whether they played a part in setting them or not, they will know what needs to be achieved and have a plan to exceed expectations.

Thinking your way through

As a leader you are faced with countless decisions in a day – how you approach each one builds on your success and that of your organisation. In trying to understand the link between decision making and leadership, research has focused on the concept of strategic thinking.

This essential leadership skill, is vital to an organisation’s growth and profitability and in some cases its very survival. Many a tall poppy of the business world has been felled by the lack of a clear vision of the future for their company and their people. Were the leaders within Blackberry, Woolworth, Blockbuster or Hoover thinking strategically? Had they been trained to assess the potential outcomes of their decisions? In order to adapt to increasingly dynamic global realities and ensure continued success in business, the ability to continually be conscious of the strategic outcomes  needs to be developed and fine tuned.  When did you last practice this essential art?

A Harvard Business Review article, Strategic Leadership -The Essential Skills, describes a ‘strategic leader’ as someone who is both resolute and flexible – persistent in the face of setbacks, but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts. The article highlights six key skills that define strategic leadership – the abilities to anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align, and learn. Each of these skills helps leaders to think strategically and navigate the unknown effectively.

1. Anticipate – Foresee the future

Strategic thinking involves creating a vision for the future of your organisation. Strategic leaders display vigilance and anticipate changes in the environment; this enables them to act quickly and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. This style of leadership is also characterised by the ability to react to a crisis proactively. It’s necessary to have a clear idea of where you are going and what you’re trying to accomplish in your organisation.

2. Challenge – Question the status quo

As a strategic leader, you need to develop patience, courage, and an open mind. Assess a situation in detail and examine all possible angles before drawing conclusions. The report recommends focusing on the root of a problem, rather than the symptoms. It also suggests applying the “five whys” of Sakichi Toyoda, Toyota’s founder – according to this principle you should begin by questioning the current status of a situation and continue questioning the answers until you reach the crux of a problem.

3. Interpret – Seek new insights

A crucial part of strategic leadership involves integrating information from different sources and detecting trends, associations, and cause-effect relationships. You need to be able to translate complex situations into simple, meaningful explanations that others can easily understand.

4. Decide – Keep your options open

Often, during uncertain times, leaders make hasty decisions based on limited information. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself making decisions under pressure, you need to stop now. It’s not only detrimental to your leadership capability, but will have a negative impact on long term organisational goals. Instead, analyse all the variables involved and decide how to move forward in a productive way.

5. Align – Look for hidden agendas and coalitions

The article suggests “Communicate early and often to combat the two most common complaints in organisations: “No one ever asked me” and “No one ever told me.”
Strategic leaders must make efforts to find common ground among stakeholders who have disparate views and agendas. As a leader an integral part of your job is to manage differences and align divergent viewpoints.

6.  Learn – Promote a culture of growth

Strategic leaders encourage inquiry and empower their teams by discussing success and failure in an open and constructive way. A key to successful leadership is growth through transparency – assess various projects and work out why some are more successful than others. Maintain open lines of communication with your team to ensure that the assessment is a learning process.

Your focus should be on analysing failure and rewarding success. In this way you are building a culture of progress, where mistakes are viewed as a learning opportunity.

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