I had a client whose boss told him he wanted him to think more strategically. He was engrossed in the grindstone of managing the risk department, not giving much thought to what was next for the future of risk management. His remedy was to hide away for a couple of days and to re-emerge with a strategic plan.
His way of fixing the problem reminded me of the days when executives would venture to a cabin in the woods to brainstorm big ideas and build trust. But, strategic leadership is not a weekend retreat or a binder. Strategic thinking is an everyday way of doing business.
To think strategically is to get into the habit of constantly asking questions about tomorrow and pondering whether you are doing the right things today. Are you addressing the clients’ problems? How can you wring more value out of your business or department? How can you inspire your team to upskill?
Thinking strategically is curiosity. It’s being ready to experiment with new people, processes and technologies to make things better. It’s never being satisfied. Strategic thinkers embrace a willingness to be challenged. Constructive criticism is fuel for their fires. They know they will never reach an end state. They are comfortable instigating incremental change and fighting for breakout moments.
After our sessions, my client started to embody a strategic mindset. He began to lace his everyday interactions with employees with conversations about improvements and innovations. He began to wonder: What if? And, he started asking questions like “what are our clients burning needs” that would change his department’s trajectory. Not only did his manager notice and appreciate the difference, his employees did as well.
Strategic thinking takes practice like any other leadership skill. For executives who are struggling to activate their strategic mindset, I say lift your eyes from your monitor and start to wonder: What if?