Effective Leaders Make Time to Think Strategically

Effective Leaders Make Time to Think Strategically
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How Often Do Your Leaders Make The Time to Think Strategically?

Great leaders build great strategies that people can commit to. But most leaders report being so preoccupied with short-term targets and immediate issues that they do not feel that they have enough time to think strategically.  That is a shame.  Strategic thinking is not just about the urgent — it’s about planning for the future.

What The Research on Strategic Thinking Says
A research study by MRG of of 60,000 managers and executives in 140 countries across 26 industries found that 97% of senior leaders rated “being strategic” as the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success.  In fact, thinking strategically was rated twice as important as the second most highest rate behavior (communication) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors.

Yet, Harvard Business School reported that 43 percent of executives cannot clearly state their own strategy.  The most common excuse: the lack of time available for strategic thinking.

The Good News and Not So Good News
The good news is that strategic thinking is a leadership skill that can be cultivated and that 60 minutes per week can make an impact.  The not so good news is that the kind of strategic thinking that generates a clear, believable, and implementable direction takes time. To lead well, leaders must regularly set aside individual and team time to think strategically, systemically, and laterally.

The best leaders make thinking strategically a regular part of their job and their team norms.  They don’t just do — they reflect about the short- and long-term consequences of the company’s plans and are able to make far-reaching decisions in the midst of uncertainty.  Data from our leadership simulation assessment tells us that strategic thinking leaders:

  • Formulate Concrete Visions
    Strategic thinking leaders are adept at vividly communicating a concrete strategic vision that appeals to followers’ values.
  • Set Strategic Priorities
    Strategic thinking leaders identify a manageable set of strategic priorities based on a thorough analysis.
  • Take Strategic Perspectives
    Strategic thinking leaders scan the broad environment inside and outside the organization to gain strategic insights.

Some Good Strategic Questions to Ponder
Once you make the time to think strategically, make sure you reflect on the past, consider the current situation, and look at different scenarios for the future. Here are some of the strategic questions you should be asking if you are in charge of charting your organization’s future success:

  • Does Everything We Are Doing Make Sense Together?
    Look at all aspects of your business and evaluate how much value they bring. If you are a company that makes printers, does it make sense to still be selling printer cartridges? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s important to have a sound rationale for continuing along the same business lines.

    One activity should complement the other in a way that the sum is greater than the parts.

  • Does Our Culture (The Way We Do Business) Fit With Our Overall Strategy?
    Your strategy must go through your people and your culture to be fully implemented.  If your culture is misaligned with your strategy, your chances for success are low.  In fact, our organizational alignment research found that culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.

    One way to approach this question is to think about how you would build the company culturally in terms of areas like customer orientation, decision making, risk tolerance, process variation, market leadership, and results orientation if you were to perfectly execute your strategy.

  • Do We Make Decisions With The Future In Sight?
    Too many leaders report that their incremental budgeting process creates an incremental strategic plan that is more based upon the past than the future.  Strategic thinking allows you to make better decisions by better understanding and anticipating market trends, competitive threats,  adjacent opportunities, and disruptive innovations.

    Instead of focusing on your next immediate challenge, invest the time to imagine different strategic scenarios to better prepare your company for an uncertain future.

The Bottom Line
Try to get a fresh, unbiased perspective on what makes sense for the long haul for your business, your culture, your customers and your workforce. Don’t just continue doing business as you always have. Great leaders make the time to think strategically so they are always one step ahead of the pack.

To learn more about improving your strategic thinking, download How Strategic Clarity Distinguishes the Top 6% of Leaders


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