Strategic thinking is an essential skill to both short and long-term planning. In his book Fifteen Things Common to Great Achievers, author Israelmore Ayivor shared, “A dream is the frame or portrait or a construction or focus of one’s vision by means of perception, based on what he or she knows and settles within via strategic thinking.”
Effective strategic thinking enables leaders to plan for the future, create steps to achieve that plan, and evaluate and iterate on the results.
After becoming the first female chancellor of Germany, Merkel helped Europe weathered the storm of the European Union crisis of the early 2010s. Her leadership helped keep the EU nations together during difficult times. She strategically focused on key relationships between countries through dialogue and diplomacy. She successfully navigated among the countries to keep them on board, and was dubbed “the woman who saved the dignity of Europe.”
While working for Vogue, Weiss saw an opportunity and formed Into the Gloss, a lifestyle blog that generated over ten million monthly views. After quitting her day job, Weiss was able to leverage her side hustle into a business that raised $86 million in venture capital. Never one to rest on her laurels, she strategically expanded her business to pair style with ecommerce, thus turning her a lifestyle blog into an online skin care retailer, Glossier. In 2018, Fortune declared Glossier as “one of the most disruptive brands in beauty.”
During her tenure as CEO of UnitedHealthcare, Boudreaux was credited for increasing the healthcare company’s annual revenue by 50%. However, it was at Anthem where she truly showed her strategic chops. Before she took the reins, the company had seen year-over-year declines. By the first quarter of 2018, Boudreaux was able to increase enrollment by 6.5% through focusing resources to only core business functions and strengthening the company’s service arm.
Strategic thinkers never make assumptions. Instead, they ask questions to seek clarity. They approach every new problem or challenge with empathy, thus helping them make informed, bias free decisions.
Strategic thinkers are pragmatic leaders. They’re capable of developing strategies and executing at the same time. Strategic leaders know how to get things done today while having the foresight to plan for the future.
Strategic thinking is about iterating on iterations. A strategic thinker is never content with leaving something as it is. They want to continuously improve, always looking for the next mountain to climb, the next niche to fill.
Strategic thinking is more than just calling the shots. Strategic leaders spend more time thinking, listening, and observing over making decisions.
Strategic leaders are methodical and data-driven. They make informed decisions by observing trends, asking the right questions, and seeking context.
Strategic thinking is about planning and executing for the future. Strategic leaders never let short-term gains blind them from focusing on what’s important for their team, customers, and business.
Thinking critically requires you to question everything. Not from a cynical point of view, but in a way that constructively allows you to see ideas objectively. Just because a system of thinking or idea is commonly accepted as the standard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be questioned. Taking the time to question something opens the door for opportunity.
Being self-aware to monitor and question your own thoughts is an important part of being strategic. Realizing that your thoughts or ideas could be flawed does not negatively impact your own credibility, in fact, it does quite the opposite. Being aware of your biases will enable you to think outside the box to create new ideas.
Every company needs a strategy, but what’s a strategy without anything that distinguishes you from the next business doing the exact same thing as you. If you really want to get anywhere, adding a bit of differentiation is critical and requires creativity.
Strategic people find connections between ideas, plans and people that others fail to see. It’s impossible to make those connections if you don’t provide yourself with the chance to see them. Schedule a time every day or every week where you actively try to spend time thinking.
The more strategic minds you have generating ideas for you, the better. Work to build a culture in your company where everyone is encouraged to think strategically.
In order to be strategic, you need a solid understanding of the industry context, trends, and business drivers. Be proactive about connecting with peers both in your company and in your industry to understand their observations.
Challenge your own and others’ assumptions and encourage divergent points of view. Only after careful reflection and examination of a problem through many lenses will a strategic thinker take decisive action. This requires patience, courage, and an open mind. Focus on the root causes of a problem rather than the symptoms.