Strategic thinking is one of the most important skills that a business leader can possess. In fact, a study conducted by Management Research Group (MRG) found that strategic thinking is, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of leadership effectiveness than other traits like communication and persuasion. But is it a skill that can be passed onto other employees?
Some experts may argue that strategic thinking can’t be taught. However, there’s strong evidence supporting the argument that disciplined development and facilitated experiences can help to teach and strengthen strategic thinking skills. In my experience, I’ve found that neither mindset is particularly beneficial for most growing businesses — you can’t expect to hire only naturally talented strategic thinkers, and it’s unrealistic to invest a lot of time and resources into structured training programs that teach these skills. The more practical approach is developing leadership practices that exemplify the skills required for strategic thinking, as well as establishing processes that help nurture a work culture in which those skills are valued. Here are some tips for developing a team of strategic thinkers:
Always explain the why.
Many managers tend to focus their employee training on what or how. The why is often forgotten, even though it’s absolutely pertinent to strategic thinking. The explanation of why reminds employees of the big picture and helps align your decision making with your strategic plan and vision.
Challenge assumptions and encourage others to do the same.
Good strategic thinking requires skilled critical thinking. It’s important to constantly ask questions, define the problem, and explore ideas and solutions. If you’ve had success explaining the why to your employees, there’s a strong possibility that you may hear some employees respond with “but what if?” These are the moments that can often spark creativity and innovation.
Bring different teams together to share diverse perspectives on a regular basis.
Your front-line employees tend to have the best knowledge of on-the-ground issues, whereas middle management may have the best insights on process efficiencies. Your marketing department may conduct great research about industry competitors, while your service team can offer great feedback about customer satisfaction. Great strategic thinking doesn’t happen by keeping this information isolated. By making it a priority to share knowledge internally, you can create more opportunities for creative ideas and solutions to emerge.
Prioritize and learn to say no.
The ability to prioritize is a key trait that separates creative thinking from strategic thinking. Strategic leaders know how to evaluate various ideas and proposals to determine which ones will have the most potential positive impact. They also understand that knowing when to say “no” is just as important as knowing when to say “yes.” Keeping this process as transparent as possible for your team will help align them with your overall vision and plan.
Integrate strategic thinking into your company values.
If you intend on making strategic thinking a part of your work culture, then you’ll need to integrate it into your company values. That means recruiting for and rewarding the traits that one needs to be a good strategic thinker, such as curiosity, adaptability, creative problem solving, and strong emotional intelligence. You can encourage these behaviors by making it a point to publicly praise the employees who use strategic thinking to solve problems and promoting your best strategic leaders to management positions.
The more you instill a strategic mindset within your employees, the easier it will be to execute your strategic plans and keep your team aligned on the company vision. Companies that know how to cultivate strategic thinkers within their team are able to grow sustainably and handle any changes that may impact the business in the future.