Strategic Thinking Is...

You have just received feedback that “you are not strategic enough.” During a video conference with your manager, you describe (defend) your strategic thinking on a project...and your manager’s normally warm face has been replaced by a blank stare. The meeting ends flat. Your level of frustration is above boiling. You want to yell from the top of Mt Fuji, “I am being strategic,” but you are limited to the roof top of your 10-story apartment complex. Your travel budget is anemic. As part of a development program your manager recommended, you have access to a coach.

Before you chat with your coach, please think about these things.

Research notes that only about 5% of the population is naturally (innately) strategic. That might mean that if you are reading this article you are likely in the 95%...that will have to work hard at being strategic. It is doable!

Because thinking strategically isn’t easy (except for the 5 percenters), recognize that ongoing learning is required. This means more than reading an occasional business publication. It means adopting a growth mindset and deeply thinking about your company’s operation and the ecosystems (customers, competitors, geographies, economies) that they operate within.

A strategic thinker assumes that things are always changing and that things will always need to change. Since many of us are change adverse, you will want to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and how to love it.

Strategic thinkers are systems thinkers. They are constantly dwelling on how all the moving pieces connect, split, and reconnect depending on ecosystem movement. Practice seeing how everything is connected.

Strategic thinkers are always looking forward (not just during the yearly strategic planning meeting...which is often more light on strategy and heavy on planning). They do not plan for the company they are, but for the future they anticipate.

Strategic thinkers have an eye on implementation, not just idea generation. They are consumed with understanding their organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and core competencies, so they can better understand and attend to their gaps when they make a move in the market.

The essence of thinking strategically involves shifting your mindset to see the bigger picture, orienting to the long term and the future, seeing things as a system rather than disconnected events, and adopting a growth mindset by becoming comfortable with change and continuous learning. A coach will help you understand how your current strengths and habits fit into acting and thinking strategically.

No Coach

If you don’t have a coach to help shift your thinking, there are several other things that you can do.

Find a mentor that will help you learn your organization and industry more deeply.

Read business journals and make a game of determining who should merge with whom, based on complimentary product and/or service offerings.

Ask for a stretch assignment in another department to expand your exposure to the business.

Look for and take advantage of the strategic thinking resources your organization provides.

I am sure others have a cacophony of ideas. Share them in the comments. Meanwhile, there is comfort in traveling our daily myopic highway...just trying to make it through the day. Intentionally, plan a detour. You will find wide open, sun-filled vistas and roads untraveled. Adventure is exhilarating and calming at the same time. This movie clip keeps me dreaming and thinking strategically.