A lot of folks want to be more strategic in their roles these days — you may have noticed it’s a bit of a buzzword. But why? What does it mean to be strategic, and why should everyone — at every level — strive to be more strategic in their professional life? Most importantly, how does one go about it?
Strategic thinking is the ability to think critically about complex problems and plan for the future. Strategic thinkers set measurable goals and keep those top of mind when acting in the present. They examine each situation for trends and complexities and each path for potential roadblocks. And, they take a holistic view. They can see the bigger picture and their role in it.
“I always go to that outward mindset that you’re constantly thinking from the perspective of the bigger picture,” says Highrise coach Jennifer Daniels. “How parts and pieces come together, not just taking a step-by-step, tactical approach on things, but really understanding how something connects to the bigger whole.”
Most employees want to do their work and do it well, but being strategic is more than that. It’s about being known as someone who can lend feedback and prioritize decisions. Strategic thinking can help you make a bigger impact, avoid mistakes and present yourself as a leader. These are desirable outcomes at any career level.
Strategic thinking is really more of a mindset than a skill. The goal is to eventually develop this mindset so it comes as second nature, a constant part of how you operate all the time. In the meantime, here are some tools you can use to start developing this perspective.
Some employees simply want to keep their heads down and get their work done. That’s not a bad thing, except when you have your head down, you miss opportunities to understand the context or trends that drive your everyday work. It’s important to pay attention to recurring issues and consider: How will those issues affect the work you’re doing, and how can you overcome those obstacles?
“I think if somebody is in a situation where they have their head down all day, that’s the issue,” says Daniels. “What is it we’re putting in front of taking time to understand that big picture?”
It’s not just sales people who deal with customers. There is always someone you are serving – whether those people are external or internal. And understanding how your actions make an impact on those around you is a key element of a strategic mindset.
Every day you should be doing that scan of, what have I done to augment the whole? Am I doing everything I can to create value? Am I doing everything so that my customers are creating the most value, so my outputs contribute to their inputs? Do I really take the time to understand my impact? To me, outward mindset, strategic thinking, and impact all go hand in hand. It’s taking responsibility for your impact which means you have to understand the bigger picture.
It’s natural to want to avoid conflict, but asking tough questions is a vital part of a strategic mindset. How is a decision I make now going to impact something down the line? How can we do something better or faster? Can someone else suggest a different approach? How can I incorporate different perspectives?
This doesn’t have to be adversarial. On the contrary, embracing tough questions and addressing them with the right timing and tactfulness is a sign of a mature and strategic thinker.
Strategic thinking doesn’t always happen on its own. You might need to set aside specific time for it, particularly if you have a job that keeps you on back-to-back calls for much of the day. Now, setting aside time to…think…might not seem entirely productive. Most assuredly, it is. Thinking is active and necessary. Daniels recommends what she calls an integrity scan:
From a tactical standpoint, if [you’ve] got to carve out time, I would carve out time assessing, asking those questions of, how am I creating value? Is everything I’m doing, does it make a real difference? Am I getting feedback from the right folks? If I don’t understand the big picture, what questions do I need to ask, what do I need to do to make sure I really understand how I connect?
The hope is that eventually, that type of introspection will become a constant, a part of how you operate all the time.
One key trait of strategic people is an ability to prioritize ruthlessly. They evaluate tasks based on urgency and importance. They decline meetings for which they won’t be needed. They consider whether meetings are truly necessary or if work can be done asynchronously. They deeply value their own time and know how to guard it. In other words, strategic people know how to say no. You don’t want to be obstinate or unhelpful, but you do need to set boundaries.
Strategy is more than a buzzword. To become a truly strategic thinker and professional will not only heighten your own abilities in your job, but it will also make you appear as a leader to colleagues and superiors.
Highrise coaching can help you elevate your professional presence and give you the tools to be more strategic every day. Schedule a time to learn more here.