27 September 2023

How to show off a strategic mind

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Dorie Clark* has three steps to help people prove to their bosses that they’re strategic thinkers.

As you start to step into leadership positions, you stop being evaluated on whether you can implement a task or a project, and you start being asked to conceptualize it, and determine what’s most valuable for you, the company, and other employees to be spending their time on.

This is what strategic thinking is all about.

It’s one of the most important skills as a leader, yet often, people are not taught how to do it.

That’s why rising leaders are finding ways to build this skill on their own.

And it’s exciting to see that this year, my course Strategic Thinking ranks number two on LinkedIn Learning’s list of the 20 Most Popular Courses.

Especially at this time when COVID has reshaped the workplace, strategic thinking will be a must to advance your career and help your organisation adapt.

Use these tips from my course to strengthen your strategic thinking muscle and succeed as a leader.

As I describe in my new book The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, as you work to ascend any company ladder, thinking simultaneously on two planes – big picture and small scale, and present and future is essential.

Here are three ways to demonstrate you are a strategic thinker at work:

Watch the full course, Strategic Thinking, any time for free until October 15, 2021 to learn how to use strategic thinking to guide teams and develop solutions to key business problems.

  1. Create an informed strategy

Strategy is important, but it has to be an informed strategy.

You can’t input faulty assumptions and expect something amazing to just come out of it because you’re being strategic.

Here are a few ideas to help you become smarter and more nuanced in your strategic thinking.

Look at history: What’s worked before? What are your competitors doing? A good strategy doesn’t necessarily have to be innovative.

Think about future trends in your industry.

What do you suspect will be the next breakthrough in your industry, based on your research and knowledge? If you have an intuition about where things are going, you might as well position yourself to try to get there first.

Solicit input from diverse sources.

Can you get input from the actual users of the product or service you’re designing? Go into the field and learn? Are there others at the company, like interns or someone from accounting, who wouldn’t be likely suspects to weigh in, but who may have valuable input? If you make it a practice to bring in new voices and perspectives, you give yourself a far better chance of uncovering blind spots.

  1. Apply your strategy to the real world

Thinking strategically is important, but only if it’s realistic and attainable.

Follow these steps to make sure your strategy that sounds good in theory is also relevant and useful in the real world.

First, take some time to map out your assets and allies.

What skills, knowledge, or experience do you possess that can help you? If the company’s focus is expansion into the Latin American market, speaking Spanish is going to be a huge help.

On top of that, what relationships and allies can you tap? Maybe your boss knows you want to take a leading role in the expansion, or the head of communications knows how skilled you are in social media.

Next, think about what constraints you’ll face- structural, cultural, or related to talent and personnel – so you can start to work around them.

Maybe the VP of operations wants to install his own manager in Latin America and therefore block you.

Or maybe your company values experience and longevity more than anything else, so it’s hard to get your ideas heard when you’ve only been there a couple of years.

Finally, break your strategy down into specific steps.

If your strategy is to become a leader in your company’s Latin American expansion efforts, your goal might be to land a specific leadership role in the team.

Over the next six months, your tactics might include understanding who makes the hiring decisions; making sure your allies recommend you to that person; refreshing your Spanish; and researching the Latin American market through in-depth reading and informational interviews so you can hit the ground running.

  1. Measure your success

How do you know if your strategy is on the right track? You developed it with the best of intentions, taking into account all the facts you had at the time.

But circumstances change and evolve.

It’s possible that your strategy should, too.

How do you know? Here’s a three step system you can put in place to measure your progress and keep yourself moving forward:

  • First, identify your assumptions and get clear on what success looks like.

Yes, you want the new product to be a hit, but what does that mean? How many units sold? By when? How many mentions in the press or new wholesale partners?

  • Second, evaluate your progress at regular intervals.

Whether we’re talking about business strategy or your career, identify in advance when and how you’re going to track your progress so it doesn’t get neglected once you’re in the midst of implementation.

  • Third, document your processes.

When we review our assumptions, check them against those milestones, and see what we got right and wrong, we can see where we’re overconfident and where we’ve historically had blind spots.

The more self-reflection we can manage when it comes to strategic thinking, the better off we’ll be.

These are just a few of the steps you can take to sharpen your decision making skills and hone your strategic thinking.

*Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker. They have twice been named one of the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50.

This article first appeared at linkedin.com.

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