Strategic leadership is not a talent. It doesn’t happen spontaneously. Strategic thinking requires intentionality and the willingness to assume a forward-looking mindset. Leadership coaching can help you develop behaviors that allow you to turn strategic thinking into a habit. Strategic thinking is one of the clear strengths of visionary leaders.

“Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there.” – John P. Kotter.

Strategic thinking is a state of mind. Strategic leadership requires a mindset of intentionality and a deep understanding of yourself and your goals.

From the perspective of a leadership coaching specialist, strategic leadership is the ability to envision a goal and create a plan to achieve it by taking into account a set of variables, including the current situation and the obstacles that may emerge.

Strategic thinking allows leaders to:

  • Make informed decisions
  • Untangle and successfully navigate complex situations
  • Adapt to rapidly changing environments
  • Embrace change

strategic thinking

Strategic thinking gives leaders a distinct advantage.

Strategic leadership redefines organizational cultures, facilitating innovation and forward-thinking approaches to problem-solving. Strategic thinking helps leaders and organizations align their actions and behaviors with long-term organizational goals and values.

Strategic leadership proactively shapes the future through anticipation and intentionality.

“Strategic thinking rarely occurs spontaneously.” – Michael Porter.

In this article, I dissect the benefits of strategic thinking, redefining its role in visionary leadership. I also provide a practical guide to developing strategic thinking skills. Read on if you want to secure a competitive edge for your organization by adapting to changes better and making better decisions amid uncertainty and chaos.

Understanding Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is the source of strategic leadership. It represents the ability to make complex decisions and solve complex problems. Strategic thinking allows leaders to define long-term goals, anticipate challenges, and develop plans to overcome those challenges to reach the goals.

A business coaching professional sees strategic thinking as an indispensable component of intelligent leadership. Leaders capable of strategic thinking are:

  • Visionary leaders
  • People who find opportunities in challenges
  • Leaders who value and facilitate innovation
  • People who successfully translate strategic objectives into actionable plans and execute them successfully
  • Leaders who allocate and use resources optimally

Strategic thinking is a higher state of mind that differs from operational thinking in four essential ways.

  • Strategic thinking focuses on long-term trends and objectives, like organizational capabilities, market trends, etc. Operational thinking handles immediate tasks and deals with short-term objectives.
  • Abstraction. Strategic thinking works with more abstract concepts, like overarching purpose and conceptual frameworks. Operational thinking deals with practical tasks and details.
  • Scope. The scope of strategic thinking is wide, covering complex issues that may impact the future of the organization. The scope of operational thinking is narrower. It doesn’t extend beyond dealing with predefined plans and immediate problems.
  • Time-horizon. Strategic thinking addresses long-term issues. Operational thinking solves immediate problems and aims for short-term goals.

The Characteristics of Visionary Leaders


Visionary leaders have the power to peek into possible future scenarios for their organizations. At the same time, they inspire others by sharing their visions effectively and empowering people to help them on their leadership journeys.

As an executive coaching expert, I have isolated a few leadership traits that define leaders who excel in strategic thinking.

  • Clear vision. Strategic leaders have clear visions and communicate their visions to others clearly, inspiring and motivating people.
  • Forward-looking attitude. Having a clear vision of the future empowers leaders to make proactive plans aligned with their visions.
  • Analytic thinking. Strategic leaders base their future-focused decisions on solid information and analysis.
  • Creativity and innovation. Forward-looking leaders know they must challenge the status quo. Experimentation is the way forward. Strategic leaders encourage employees to experiment, building innovation-focused cultures in their organizations.
  • Strategic leaders know how to share the burden of leadership. They empower their employees, involve people in decision-making, delegate authority, and create opportunities for others to contribute.
  • Resilience and maturity. In my experience, strategic thinking requires a level of leadership maturity that lends leaders resilience. Visionary leaders need resilience to persevere and turn their visions into reality.

Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk is the leader many of us think of when talking about visionary leaders. Musk’s audacious visions are so daring, to many, they may seem ridiculous. Continuously probing the frontier of what’s possible, Musk wants to colonize Mars, redefine transportation, and accelerate the development of sustainable energy.

His ability to identify emerging technologies and navigate complex challenges lends substance to his ambitions.

The Benefits of Strategic Thinking

In an increasingly complex world fraught with extraordinary challenges, strategic thinking is leaders’ best tool to ensure the survival and long-term viability of their organizations. Those capable of strategic thinking will thrive in the future due to the advantages strategic leadership entails.

  • Clarity in direction. Strategic thinking allows leaders to set clear short- and long-term goals for their teams and organizations. The existence of a well-defined vision ensures the alignment of these goals with the organizational values and purpose.
  • Better decision-making. Strategic thinking creates a framework leaders can use to make informed decisions based on the reality-rooted analysis of opportunities, risks, and potential outcomes.
  • Competitive advantage. Strategic thinking enables leaders to identify emerging market trends, develop differentiated strategies, and create value propositions the competition struggles to match.
  • Enhanced engagement. Strategic thinking improves communication and collaboration with clients, employees, partners, and investors. Better communication leads to enhanced engagement and better organizational outcomes.
  • Having a long-term vision and strategy fosters creative thinking and an eagerness to contribute. Together, these phenomena lead to a culture of innovation permeating every level of an organization.
  • Sustainable growth. A long-term strategy helps organizations build solid foundations for future growth and profitability.

In the early 2000s, a company called Netflix ran a DVD rental service. Its co-founder, Reed Hastings, realized the organization’s business model was under threat by a maturing technology: digital streaming. To keep the business alive, Hastings knew he had to change it. He recognized a handful of trends Netflix would have to harness to ensure its future:

  • Streaming media
  • Subscription-based monetization
  • Original content
  • Global expansion

As a result of changing its business model to accommodate consumer preferences, Netflix became one of the largest streaming platforms in existence and one of the most recognizable brands.

Developing Strategic Thinking Skills

How can you develop strategic thinking skills and become a visionary leader? As a leadership coaching expert, I have created an actionable guide to help my clients develop the skills strategic thinking requires.

  • Take a step back. Sometimes, you must look at the context in which your organization operates from an unfamiliar, wider angle. Shake off the limitations day-to-day operations may impose on your understanding of the business environment.
  • Practice long-term thinking. When current challenges abound, it’s easy to become embroiled in their intricacies. Try to look past these immediate problems and weigh the likely future consequences of your decisions.
  • Seek diverse input. People with different backgrounds can offer you different perspectives on your business. Seek these perspectives proactively and use them to derive fresh insights.
  • Explore new ideas and apply them. Encourage your employees to take action and experiment by giving them the psychological safety they need to take chances.
  • Adopt systems thinking. Train yourself to think of events and situations as parts of a system. Tweaking one area of this system impacts it as a whole.

big picture

Look at the big picture.

Continuous reflection and learning is an exercise that can help you improve many areas of your leadership, including strategic thinking. Other exercises you can do are:

  • Brainstorming
  • Analyzing case studies
  • Planning for different scenarios
  • Visualizing potential outcomes
  • Analyzing competitors
  • Organizing debates
  • Identifying blind spots through Red Team exercises

Implementing Strategic Thinking in Leadership

Let’s say you’ve honed your strategic thinking skills. How do you translate them into practical advantages for your organization and leadership?

  • A clear sense of direction. Strategic thinking allows you to identify and set clear goals and objectives. A clear sense of direction empowers people to experiment and take action in alignment with the organizational values and objectives.
  • A strategic planning process. Strategic leaders develop plans for multiple future scenarios, considering factors like technological advancements, competitive dynamics, etc. Involving diverse stakeholders in the planning process enhances its effectiveness.
  • Ways to measure success. Strategic thinking enables you to measure progress and optimize approaches as the changing circumstances require it.
  • An example to follow. Strategic leaders provide a worthy example to their followers, contributing to organizational cultures that value and use strategic thinking.

Consumer goods company Procter&Gamble took strategic thinking and leadership to a new level through its “Connect + Develop” strategy. The organization reached out to external research institutions, suppliers, and innovators to develop new products that would allow it to stay abreast of emerging market trends.

P&G has also prioritized in-house talent development, looking to improve the diversity and skills of its workforce.


Visionary leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk use strategic thinking to predict market trends and stay ahead of emerging changes. Strategic leadership inspires and empowers employees, creating cultures of innovation and sustainable growth.

As an executive coach, I consider strategic thinking as one of the top priorities of every successful leader. Embrace strategic leadership so you can anticipate trends, seize opportunities, and proactively shape the future of your organization.

Strategic thinking is not a talent or leadership trait. It is a mindset that coaching can help you develop and sharpen.

contact us

Back to blog