6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

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Here is an excerpt from an outstanding article written by Paul J. H. Schoemaker and featured online by Inc. magazine. To read the complete article, check out other resources, sign up for free email alerts, and obtain subscription, please click here.

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You’re the boss, but you still spend too much time on the day-to-day. Here’s how to become the strategic leader your company needs.

In the beginning, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You coded, you met with investors, you emptied the trash and phoned in the midnight pizza. Now you have others to do all that and it’s time for you to “be strategic.”

Whatever that means.

If you find yourself resisting “being strategic,” because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you’re not alone. Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.

This is a tough job, make no mistake. “We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It’s hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.

After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what’s required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well. [Here are the first two.]

1. Anticipate: Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:

o  Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry: Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
o  Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
o  Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

2. Think Critically: “Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:

o  Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
o  Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
o  Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions

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Do you have what it takes?

Obviously, this is a daunting list of tasks, and frankly, no one is born a black belt in all these different skills. But they can be taught and whatever gaps exist in your skill set can be filled in. I’ll cover each of the aspects of strategic leadership in more detail in future columns. But for now, test your own strategic aptitude (or your company’s) with the survey at www.decisionstrat.com. In the comments below, let me know what you learned from it.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Paul J. H. Schoemaker: Founder and Chairman, Decision Strategies International. Speaker, professor, and entrepreneur. Research Director, Mack Center for Technological Innovation at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision-making. Latest book: Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure.


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