One aspiration that junior leaders have is to be more of a strategic thinker and often, they may not know where to start. A helpful way to get started is to first understand what strategic thinking is. One definition is that “strategic thinking is about analyzing opportunities and problems from a broad perspective and understanding the potential impact your actions may have on the future of your organization, your team, or your bottom line.“ (HBR Guide to Thinking Strategically, 2018)
To become a more strategic thinker, one must develop the habit of lifting one’s head above the day-to-day activities to be curious and learn more about what is happening in one’s industry and business. Knowing about relevant political, economic, social, technological, developments and trends, is a must as well. The arena may include one’s country, ones’ region, and the world at large. In other words, it helps to be an avid reader and asking questions about how might these trends and developments impact and change customer needs and wants, and your organization, its processes, and thus the talent and skills needed. If your learning style is not much of a reader, but more visual and auditory, then watching and listening to the news, events, podcasts, can be your go-to activities.
Actively immerse and engage yourself in what you learn. Knowledge can be powerful, especially when you put it to use. One way of engaging yourself is to list down questions to help you appreciate, understand, and organize what you are learning for use in thinking about opportunities and problems from a broad perspective. Here are some example questions to help you create more focused ones on your own:
- What are the top three developments/trends impacting the companies in the industry/business?
- How is each of these top developments/trends actually impacting the companies, industry/business?
- How is each development/trend affecting our company/business now?
- What opportunities are that we can take advantage/exploit for our stakeholders’ benefit?
- What problems are there that are hidden opportunities to create new value? E.g., New products and/or services for key stakeholders/customers? Improvements in current products and/or services?
- Who are our top three competitors and how is each one riding the waves of change?
- What can we do differently from them to gain what specific advantages over them?
- What do credible futurists predict about our industry/business? What alternative scenarios are there? What do our senior leaders believe and buy into? Do I agree? Disagree? Why?
- What are we doing today to position us relative to these possible scenarios?
- And so on.
In creating engaging questions to guide you in your learning and applying strategic thinking, tap your key stakeholders/customers. Identify those that may be most representative and/or influential and interview them and/or conduct Focus Group Discussions to discover and explore what’s on their mind, what’s most important for them, what needs, wants and aspirations. These may serve as a compass to narrow down opportunities and problems to work on. That is, those most promising in terms of what matters to creating value for them and thereby your company’s thriving in the next five to 10 years.
Create your own applied strategic thinking circle. To help motivate you and others to engage in analyzing opportunities and problems (to turn into opportunities) for your company, business unit, or department, get your team and peers involved. Share your goals with them and invite them to collaborate. Creating a circle of applied strategic thinkers need not be a company-sponsored activity. All it takes is a few like-minded leaders who want to collaborate to do this and do it. On the other hand, if the company will sponsor and support such an initiative, they can help provide direction and resources.
Finally, learn as much as you can about strategic management, strategic frameworks, and strategic tools, to give you new perspectives. Look for actionable ideas/tools to experiment with in your circle to help you develop promising and viable ideas to create new sustainable value.
So, if you are indeed determined to be more of a strategic thinker, what more specific goals will you identify and what next steps are you going to take?