What is Your Natural Thinking Style?
How you approach this challenge and improve your strategic thinking, depends on where you are starting from, what your natural thinking style is. As an executive coach, I help my clients to understand what their default cognitive process is. How they can train themselves to think more strategically and communicate their strategic thoughts more effectively to increase their influence within their organisations.
When working with my clients to develop their strategic thinking my first question is always, who thinks you are not strategic? Since there is more than one type of strategic thinking, it is likely that your boss has a particular preference or style that they have identified as missing in you and therefore essential to your development. Specifically, being ‘more strategic’ is often code for thinking more like them.
You may, for example have an emergent style of thinking that is more abstract or fluid. Your vision and insight may be sound but the problem is your boss just does not get it, because for a structured personality type, strategy is less about the pure thinking and more about how that thinking translates into actions. If they do not see plans, milestones and timelines, they may assume an absence of them equals an absence of strategic thought. So in this case your challenge is less about thinking strategically, and more about influencing.
Equally, some people do their thinking aloud; they are good at extemporising and happy to strategize on the fly, to build as they go. Others prefer to think things through fully and privately in their own minds until they have solved the problem and only then communicate the answer to others. But this silence may be interpreted as a lack of thinking or an ineffective contribution to the debate. In this case, the challenge is more about effective communication.
What Stops You Being Strategic?
But if strategic thinking is something that doesn't come naturally to you, we need to understand what stops you being strategic? There are many answers to this complex issue including lack of opportunity, confidence and knowledge but the most common answer is quite simply, that you do not have the time. Head down in the detail, going from meeting to meeting your action list growing by the hour, realistically when are you going to get the time to find out what is happening outside, let alone have some strategic thoughts about it? But be honest, is it really that busy or are you just too comfortable in the detail to step outside?
Strategic thinking does not just happen; you need to make time for it. Einstein had his best ideas travelling on a train, allowing his mind to wander, not sitting behind his desk in the patent office. To think outside of the box, you have to get out of the box. Get away from your desk, go for a walk, sit in a park and contemplate. I know it will feel strange at first, you might even feel guilty at the perceived level of inactivity, afraid of the silence and quite possibly slightly silly, but unless you clear your mind, there will be no space to have strategic thoughts.
How Can You Get Inspired?
But what if you create space and nothing happens? What if the ideas don’t come? The first thing to do is don’t panic, as soon as you try to force an answer your brain will shut down and its game over for innovative thinking. People who think strategically often use insights, imagination and anecdotes as information, rather than facts. Because facts tell us what is, not what could be.
To use your intuition effectively what you need is inspiration! So get out there in your own company, talk to people outside of your normal working contacts, read articles, research, go back to the floor or up to the C suite, ask questions, get perspectives, get inspired. If you practice this and get good at it go wider, to other companies, other industries, indulge yourself creatively and truly expand your mind. Soon you will find people will be coming to you for your big picture view.
So what stops you being strategic is it your environment, the lack of opportunity or time? And when you find the space and time to think, what stimulates you to think big? What is it that really gets you thinking?