How to Develop Strategic Thinking Skills
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” – Robert Byrne
Have you ever wondered about what it means to think strategically?
Does it mean to create strategies like in a war?
Is it a skill you are born with or something you learn?
Strategic thinking seems like a vague buzzword that CEOs toss around to sound important.
This article will cover the meaning of strategic thinking skills, how to develop strategic thinking skills and how strategic thinking can improve your leadership skills.
Definition of Strategic Thinking
According to Wikipedia, there is no generally accepted definition for strategic thinking however it can be explained as:
Strategic thinking is defined as a mental or thinking process applied by an individual in the context of achieving a goal or set of goals in a game or other endeavor. As a cognitive activity, it produces thought.
From the above, we can then agree that strategic thinking is a skill we can all learn. It is how we plan, think, and ask questions to grow and learn while we work toward a goal. It’s embracing what you were like when you were a young child and continually asking those “why?” questions.
Thinking strategically is based on a combination of knowledge, experiences, and hunches. It’s about taking calculated and uncalculated risks that you hope will pay off in the future.
It’s about shifting your focus from just jumping in and doing things to thinking and planning what should be getting done.
Three Behaviors That Inspire Thinking Strategically
Switching your focus is easier said than done.
To cultivate a mind of thinking strategically, these three behaviors can help.
- Question why. Don’t accept doing a task a certain way just because it’s the way it’s always been done. Ask yourself why it’s done that way. Or is there a better way to do it? Thinking strategically is about knowledge so you can make an informed decision. Asking questions and listening to others’ opinions help supply you with the information you need to make a well-informed decision.
- Observe everything. Spending every minute of your day just doing stuff and getting things done might seem productive. But it doesn’t allow you to think strategically about what you are doing. Instead, take a step back occasionally and observe what’s going on. Look for areas that could be more efficient, who is doing what, and how much each activity is helping things move forward. Observe critically the big picture, and the way the pieces fit together.
- Think about what gives you energy or takes away your energy. Reflect on the activities that are helping the organization move ahead or are just wasting time. Reflection time each day allows you to ask yourself if you are on the right path, develop solutions, and stay on track with your goals. This is where inspiration and creativity have a chance to grow and be seen.
“Life is a sum of all our choices” – Albert Camus
10 Signs You Are A Strategic Thinker
What skills do you have to master to be a strategic thinker? There’s a good chance you might already possess a few of them. Strategic thinking is a type of mindset, a soft skill if you will, that requires you to analyze the present to shape the future for yourself and your organization.
These are the skill sets a strategic thinker has:
- You are inclined to self-reflect. You find yourself regularly reflecting on tasks you’ve already completed, conversations you’ve had, or the experiences you hoped would have gone differently. Strategic thinkers can take apart an event after it’s over to understand it fully and then adopt that knowledge for learning to do better next time. You relive key moments so they can understand the bigger picture.
- You’re always asking questions. When you don’t understand something, you want to ask questions. Some people don’t bother to do this or aren’t sure how to ask the right questions. They simply make assumptions or do the project and then ask questions later.
- You are continually trying to learn, working ahead to understand, or heading off potential problems, you are a strategic thinker. You ask questions like: “What’s the desired outcome and who benefits? Why is this important to us? Who will this decision affect? What will this mean to our team a month from now? If this doesn’t work what is the fallback plan?”
- You don’t waste effort by duplicating efforts. You become frustrated when two or more parties are performing the same work or others are performing tasks that end up wasting resources and time.
- You compartmentalize distractions easily. You find it easy to group and sort your many responsibilities. You push distractions aside and focus on what your most immediate task is. You don’t shut down mentally or start to panic at the thought of having multiple tasks that have to be seen to completion at the same time or soon after each other.
- You are decisive when necessary. You gather the necessary information competently while keeping a cool head. You don’t allow a difficult decision to cause you stress. You are confident and knowledgeable in your choice.
- You set goals for yourself on a regular basis. You break down major goals into smaller tasks. You understand why something is worth the time it takes to do. You get excited about setting professional and personal goals for yourself. You have an eye toward your future.
- You’re thrilled when helping others be their best. You want to help them reach their potential.
- You willingly accept feedback. You accept help from others. You have an open mind and enjoy working with others.
- You plan your career in years or months. You imagine who you’ll be in one to five years’ time. You begin doing the groundwork now for what you want it to look like.
If you see yourself in any of these areas, you have the characteristics of a strategy thinker. You most likely carry these traits out in every area of your life.
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How Thinking Strategically Can Give You A Competitive Edge in Business
Everyone wants to have an edge when they are doing business.
After all, being the first to come out with a new innovative product puts you out in front of the competition.
Can thinking strategically give you a competitive edge in business?
And if so, how?
Why A Competitive Edge Is Important
In today’s market, there are millions of products and services available to take care of the needs of individuals and businesses alike.
Being able to identify and exploit the features and benefits of your product or service and show how it is better or different from your competition is your competitive edge.
It will provide your business with the tools to increase sales, improve its profit margins, and ensure your business’s survival in a competitive market.
When you think strategically about how you can gain a competitive edge with your business you are able to come up with new and innovative ways or ideas for your service or product.
How to Develop Strategic Thinking Skills in Business
Thinking strategically requires you to constantly assess your business and the industry and apply any new insights.
Your goal is to use the knowledge to reinforce how your company is different to achieve a competitive advantage.
This means making smart decisions on a daily basis and knowing where you are going.
Look at your company. Research alternative diverse sources of information about your company, the competitors, and the industry.
Once you have this information, you’re equipped with the tools to develop new insights.
Take time to re-think things and reflect on your options before you make a decision. Use the time to create innovative ideas and solutions.
Thinking strategically allows you to set up a plan, execute and adjust it so that your product or service fits your customers’ needs better than your competitors.
By using your skills of communication, listening, and asking questions you learn what they need, want, and desire. You can also see where your competitors’ product or service is lacking and try to find a way to fill that void.
Strategic thinking skills help you be innovative.
Thinking outside the box, having an open mind, and showing empathy for your customers allows your creativity to open up possibilities.
Thinking strategically means you focus on the future.
You anticipate what needs to happen, what can go wrong, and who you can work with. You’re able to see patterns and ways to connect them with new ones.
You’re able to interpret the information you’ve learned and turn it into a plan with actionable steps that lead to success.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” – Zig Ziglar
How Does Strategic Thinking Improve Your Leadership Skills?
Strategic thinking is a powerful tool in the leadership of an organization. It gives them the foresight and insight needed for success over the long term when applied throughout the organization.
Employees and people in general, value leaders who are not focused solely on solving the problem of today but are looking to the future as well. Leaders plan ahead and figure out what needs to be done today, tomorrow and the years ahead to get there.
There are many opportunities to use and improve strategic thinking and leadership skills every day.
By learning to practice problem-solving at every stage of a project you build your strategic thinking skills.
Good leaders ask others for their input on problems and consider other solutions.
- Giving constructive feedback to team members along the way helps them understand what’s working or not as well as a chance to use the insight right away. By doing this, your team members respect you and trust you to help them do the right thing.
- When you improve your strategic thinking skills and implement those skills with others, you become a better communicator. Effective communication is a top attribute of a leader who is a strategic thinker.
- By developing good communication skills and being able to clearly describe what actions you want your team to take, you also unite everyone to work together.
- Being a good communicator means having an open-door policy and having one-on-one meetings regularly with team members. You make yourself accessible to discuss anything.
- Communication includes having good listening skills as well. It’s important to listen to what your employees or team members have to say. Leaders speak and hear well.
- Employees need to know you hear their concerns and ideas. This helps build morale and makes your business better since you are getting input from people on the front.
- Mark Twain said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have rather talked.” Leaders practice listening and use the knowledge gained to solve problems, improve services or products, and builds a stronger company atmosphere.
- Strategic thinking leaders have a collaborative approach that creates transparency in the business. Being genuinely interested in collaborating with your team lets them know what you’re thinking and that you are interested to know what they are thinking. This leads to trust.
- A strategic thinking leader is forthright about their success, failures, and reasons for choosing certain goals or plans over others. This level of honesty and responsibility earns the respect of their team and encourages the team to follow suit.
- Passion and commitment show through in your enthusiasm for projects or your mission. This gets others excited because they see and feel your excitement.
- Commitment is what gets the job done with the ability to stay focused on what you need to do to be successful. Showing your team that you are passionate and committed means doing the work alongside them. They see this, increasing their motivation and respect for you.
5 Questions To help you develop a Strategic Thinking Mindset
Are you still feeling a bit confused by strategic thinking? You know it’s essential for your career and your business, but how do you actually do it?
Here are five questions you should ask yourself to really sharpen your strategic thinking.
1. What do you want?
The most important thing to work out is where you want to be. Everything —goals, strategies, steps, should all be pointing to your desired destination.
Do you want to be CEO, or be running your own company?
What do you want to achieve this year, in five years, or ten? What are your actual goals? What’s your vision?
Get it all down on paper and think big!
2. Where are You Starting From?
Do a survey of exactly where you are right now. What skills, resources, and assets do you have? What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and risks in your current job or business?
Are you satisfied with life the way it is, or do you want something more?
What connections do you have? Map out your network and what value you provide to them, and what they offer you. Write up your self-inventory.
3. What do You Have the Power to Change?
Think about what is in your control at the present moment. What can you streamline or eliminate? What do you need to add, enhance, or modify to reach your goals?
This can include anything from training, and networking opportunities, to investment advice or strategic career planning.
4. What do You Need to Move Ahead?
Take another look at your self-inventory. What skills, resources, knowledge, and connections do you need to get closer to success? If this is difficult or overwhelming, consider finding a mentor or life coach who can help you find your way.
5. How Can I Reach My Goals and Still Enjoy Life?
Really going for success shouldn’t make for a joyless life, totally focused on getting ahead. Make sure you take time to have fun and do the things that give you pleasure.
Think of what Future Successful You would enjoy doing. What makes your future worth striving for?
Write down all the fun things you will do, whether it’s staying in 5-star hotels or being able to work for only half the year. Imagine driving your dream car. See yourself in your future executive suite.
See what elements of your future life you can start to incorporate in the present and build on those. Before you know it, you will be celebrating your success!
Concluding thoughts on thinking strategically
When you focus on always being busy, you are working hard. But you are not thinking strategically. Of course, working and doing is necessary up to a point.
Instead, stop focusing on just getting things done.
Take a step back and set goals for what you want in the future and how you can help the organization win.
Thinking strategically is inspiring.
Using the above-mentioned 10 skills helps you go from mindlessly going through the motions and listening to the commands of others to planning, observing, and implementing in a way that gets you and your team to the success of the goal.
How to Develop Strategic Thinking Skills
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