Strategic Thinking Can be Taxing
There are people in this world that are a natural in certain skills—you have public speakers who can easily shake the room with a spontaneous speech, artistically-inclined bakers with a knack for cake design, and finally, you have the natural-born leaders with the ability to think strategically at will. The reality is that the majority of higher-ups don’t think strategically.
A study by PwC revealed that out of the 6,000 executives they’ve interviewed for the study, only 8 percent of them were identified as strategic thinkers. This comes to show just how challenging it can be to not only procure a strategic mindset, but also keeping one in the long term.
Like any other skill, it takes consistent practice to both achieve and maintain a strategic mindset, and constantly catching yourself whenever you fall into tactical thinking. Continuously ask yourself these following questions to keep yourself in check.
Questions to ask yourself to see if you’re thinking strategically.
Question #1: Am I saying “no” too often?
One of the hallmarks of a strategic thinker is that they’re willing to take calculated risks if it means getting them closer to their goals. To do this, strategic thinkers will need to frequently go out of their comfort zone in order to seek out these unique opportunities for advancement, and that means sometimes saying “yes” to things we would instinctively say “no” to.
Taking risks and going out of our comfort zones is challenging because it means we would have to deal with the change that comes with it. Once strategic thinkers see the market undergoing rapid change, they quickly and decisively adapt to that change and go through the necessary transformation within the organization to keep up with new market demands. They aren’t reluctant to explore unknown waters, they embrace it and accept it as part of their growth process as well as their company’s or team’s.
Question #2: If I had all the time in the world, what would I choose to do now?
Are you finding yourself bogged down with more work than you’re supposed to? Worse yet, are you wearing too many different hats within the company? If you are, then it’s a sign that you’re taking on too much work, which may be diverting your attention from the things that matter.
Strategic thinkers understand the importance of prioritizing, and therefore, delegating the rest of the work to others whose line of expertise is more befitting of the type of work that needs to be done. They trust that their team can do the work just fine without their constant supervision and help, which in turn gives them more time to focus on their game plan for the company.
With that being said, this is why you need to let go of some of the perfectionism in you—perfectionists have a tendency to prioritize tactical work over strategic work. Let go of the perfectionist and micromanager in you and do the work you set out to do.
Question #3: Am I “thinking” more than I’m “doing”?
The majority of the population is plagued by chronic overthinking. Over-obsessing every detail and constantly ruminating the pros and cons of an idea or concept is unavoidable for most, but getting a handle on it can be what’ll bring you closer to achieving a strategic mindset.
Being a strategic thinker means knowing how to quickly and decisively take action without overthinking the situation. In fact, if you mull over an idea or concept enough times you might end up feeling more and more reluctant to take action. If you have a great idea you’re excited to implement and gathered the data necessary to ensure you have the right resources to implement this idea, then march forward and keep that excitement alive by just doing it.
Question #4: When was the last time I updated my own OKRs?
Your always encouraging your employees and managers to revisit their OKRs and keeping yourself informed on their progress, but have you stopped to check your own OKRs and making sure they’re up-to-date? Many people mistake company strategy and OKRs as something you determine once and forget about until the very next quarter or even year when in fact, it should be changed on a regular basis—and this doesn’t only apply to their teams’ OKRs; it also applies to theirs.
Strategic thinkers are always that, strategic—they think and breathe strategy. The company’s vision and their own strategy are always “in the works” and constantly updated with every opportunity that comes their way or with every change that shows up in the market.
Revisit your strategy and objectives regularly
Get into the habit of becoming a “visionary” by thinking of your company’s future more often
Question #5: What’s stopping me from reaching my goals?
When you’re met with a risk or a tough decision, an all-too familiar and unwelcome emotion starts creeping up from the depths of your being: fear. When you think about it, many of the manager archetypes mentioned in this article, like the micromanager and overthinker, operate on fear—the micromanager is afraid their team won’t do the job as efficiently as they would, and the overthinker is constantly afraid of overlooking the smallest of details.
But strategic thinkers, however, operate on pure curiosity and a genuine sense of responsibility and accountability towards their company’s—and teams’—wellbeing. That doesn’t mean they aren’t afraid; everyone has fears. They just don’t let their fears control their actions. They’ve learned to embrace conflict and the possibility of failure. And they also view failure and mistakes as learning opportunities rather than a negative reflection on their leadership skills.
Strategic thinking, for some, is like a wave; there will be moments when all you could think of is strategy, and other moments when your to-do list mainly consists of day-to-day tasks. As long as you keep yourself in check, your strategic mindset will always come back to you eventually.