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Strategic thinking is a deliberate and rational thought process that considers both the immediate situation and desired long-term results.

How will you fulfill your long-term goals? Strategic thinking can help you get there. 

It is both realistic and forward-looking, considering both situational constants and the inevitability of change. The strategic thinker is neither stuck in the present and focused on tactics, nor stuck in the clouds, envisioning a future without mapping out steps to success.

Generally, the higher a person ascends in leadership, the more strategic their point of view becomes. A payroll manager has short-term, practical tasks that must be accomplished with both precision and regularity. A CFO, by contrast, is more concerned with ensuring both short- and long-term financial strength.

Why Strategic Thinking Skills Are Essential to Strong Leadership

Leadership that focuses on individual “trees” without taking in a view of the entire “forest” is unlikely to innovate. Myopic leadership may be fine for the short term, but it doesn’t lay foundations for a healthy, long-term future.

The leader who is skilled at strategic thinking knows how to do several things competently:

  • Analyze opportunities and vulnerabilities
  • Weigh the feasibility and risk of people’s ideas
  • Understand costs (both financial and otherwise) of different choices
  • Estimate the likelihood of success of a long-term endeavor
  • Align short-term objectives with long-term plans

Strategic thinkers with strong problem-solving skills, who know how to brainstorm, envision challenges, and delegate tasks effectively can be nearly unstoppable in fulfilling the organizational vision.

Creating a Culture of Strategic Thinking

Having a leader skilled in strategic thinking is good. Having a culture of strategic thinking at every level of responsibility is significantly better. As I have said many times, the most important determinant of organizational culture is its leadership. Therefore, organizations where leaders value and practice strategic thinking are likelier to have cultures of strategic thinking, compared to organizations that do not prioritize strategic thinking.

Leaders must set a good example of strategic thinking and demonstrate its positive results.

Leaders must demonstrate the benefits of strategic thinking rather than just talking about it. For example, they must show how strategic thinking brings about better decisions (regardless of who the decision-maker is). The culture of strategic thinking fully assimilates several key concepts:

  • Who are our internal and external stakeholders?
  • What drives our decision-making and why?
  • What value do we create and how does that differentiate us?
  • How are people held accountable and rewarded for smart decisions?
  • What can we do today, tomorrow, next week, and next year to help fulfill organizational goals?

How to Encourage Strategic Thinking Throughout an Organization

Leaders can encourage strategic thinking throughout the teams they lead by practicing several values and encouraging them in others:

  • Always explaining the “why” behind decisions
  • Challenging assumptions and encouraging others to do likewise
  • Bringing different teams together to help everyone expand their point of view
  • Learning to prioritize effectively and say no sometimes
  • Making strategic thinking a stated and deliberate organizational value

Strategic thinking is the enemy of “the way we’ve always done it,” and that’s a good thing. Even when we choose to carry on with a given plan of action, we should be doing so because it is proven and because none of the alternatives offers a better value proposition.

When leaders employ strategic thinking, everyone else is more likely to do the same. Strategic thinking works because it understands why certain things are accomplished in certain ways, while always remaining open to better possibilities. It’s how businesses can ensure they maintain their competitive edge while exploring multiple paths to growth. And when strategic thinking permeates an organization from top to bottom, few things can stop it from reaching its goals.

To learn more about qualities like strategic thinking that are essential to leadership, I encourage you to check out my books, including my latest book, The Intelligent Leader.

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