27 September 2023

Three ways to show you are a strategic thinker

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May Busch* points out some simple ways you can convey to senior management that you are a person with leadership potential.

To keep advancing in your career, it’s important for your senior stakeholders and colleagues to see you as someone with greater potential.

You want to show you’re someone who can do more than what you’re doing now; someone who can make a bigger impact for the organisation.

However, when you’re busy toiling away ‘doing more with less’ resources, it can feel impossible to think about anything other than the task at hand.

So, how do you get people to see your potential?

You have opportunities every day to show you have greater potential. It’s about spotting those opportunities and then making the most of them.

I’m talking about the moments in your day when you’re communicating — in meetings, one-on-one conversations and by email.

We often resent those very situations as interruptions to getting our work done, yet meetings and emails are golden opportunities to demonstrate your future potential.

Think of them as key moments when you get to communicate who you are, the way you think, and why you’re someone to invest in for the future.

As you communicate throughout your working day, here are three points to keep in mind to be seen as someone with potential.

Focus less on the details and more on the big picture.

The more senior the people you’re talking to, the less interested they are in the tactics and processes.

They expect you and other team members to be on top of those details and don’t have time for a recounting of every step you’ve taken.

It’s not that they don’t care about details and processes. They’re focused on the bigger picture considerations that would make an impact on those details and processes.

For example, one of my team members had a habit of sending me a weekly update on what he was working on. In concept, this is a great idea.

Unfortunately, his version was a three-page, single-spaced email with every activity he was involved in.

Worse yet, it read like a time-and-motion study, as in “I created the document for client X, I spent two days helping the accountants to produce report Y, I placed the purchase order with supplier Z” and so forth.

If he wanted me to think he was busy and working hard, he succeeded, but he also left me with the impression he was neither strategic nor an effective communicator.

It was hard to envision him as someone with the potential to do more and advance much further in the organisation.

So, think about how you can convey your work and ideas in a way that demonstrates you see the bigger picture.

If you’re responsible for the logistics of the team offsite, how can you report on what’s happening in a way that also ties into the purpose of the offsite?

If you’re preparing a client proposal that’s due Monday, how can you update your boss in a way that also shows you see where that proposal fits in with the broader client strategy?

Focus less on the ‘Small Self’ and more on the ‘Big Self’.

The Small Self is the part of you that looks out for what’s in your self-interest.

The Big Self is the part of you that looks for the right thing to do for the greater good of the team or organisation as a whole.

Of course, you want to make sure you’re looking out for yourself, but if this is the primary lens through which you view the world, that will show you’re not a leader and ultimately limit your progress.

I remember being in a town hall meeting with our division head. One of my colleagues raised his hand and asked about the compensation for his group.

Not only was this a self-serving question, he asked in a way that sounded like a complaint about last year’s compensation.

Based on the division head’s expression, my colleague was not leaving the impression he wanted of having future leadership potential.

Talk less about immediate issues and more about future opportunities.

When you talk mostly about the immediate and urgent issues, it can come across as constantly being in firefighting mode and lacking the bandwidth to be strategic.

While urgent issues do need attention, you also want to show you aren’t so caught up in immediate tasks that you’re missing the bigger picture.

This is where emphasising forward-looking conversations comes in. How can you sprinkle in questions and ideas to show you’re looking ahead?

When you’re anticipating the future, it helps to focus on opportunities for the business and not just obstacles and risks.

If your job is about managing risks, see if you can propose some options or solutions alongside pointing out the downsides.

This not only helps you come across as more strategic, it also keeps you from engaging in gossip and complaining about people or policies like my colleague at the town hall meeting.

Every time you communicate with others, whether it’s speaking or in writing, you have an opportunity to influence the way others see you.

The key is to start noticing how you’re using those opportunities and making conscious choices about how to use them to demonstrate your full potential.

So, as you go about the week, reflect on what and how you’re communicating and the extent to which you’re talking or writing about the things mentioned above.

It’s about getting the mix right for you and your situation.

*May Busch works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared at maybusch.com

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