How to build strategic thinking skills for effective leadership

  • Coaching Culture
  • Strategic Thinking

The Importance of Developing Strategic Thinking Skills

Entrepreneurs, managers, and business owners alike constantly need to make on-the-spot decisions.

It’s important that those decisions are made in a rational, level-headed state of mind, weighing all the options fairly. Carefully-honed strategic thinking skills are imperative to the profitability, growth, and general success of a business. Taking the time to hone those skills is time well spent. At CMOE we offer experiential training to improve strategic thinking skills in business to ensure your company will stand tall in today’s ever-changing business world.

Someone who demonstrates how to think strategically is very open-minded and able to question and evaluate information. Critical thinking improves comprehension, challenges generally-accepted systems of thought, opening the way for innovation. Individuals with these qualities are valuable assets and sought-after by forward-thinking employers.

At the World Economic Forum Meeting on January 20, 2016, critical thinking is ranked number 2 in the top 10 skills needed to thrive in today’s workforce. Developing the skill of critical thinking is important not only for personal success but society as a whole. The world’s greatest minds and innovators were critical thinkers who weren’t afraid to challenge their own thoughts and try new ideas.

How To Improve Strategic Thinking Skills:

Below are 5 tactics that can help guide your effort of improving your strategic thinking process is now. At CMOE we offer comprehensive team training and these tips that can help prepare your critical thinking skills at the individual level. Begin practicing these techniques now to prepare you for CMOE’s Strategic Thinking Workshop Solutions.

1. Make Time For Progress

CMOE has found that one of the biggest challenges to progress with any organization is being so overwhelmed with mundane business tasks that being able to focus on strategic direction is derailed. Taking care of daily problems is important, but you need to find time to focus on the future too if progress is to occur. How do you find the time, energy, and discipline to break away from daily activities?

  • First, understand it is time well-spent. You are investing in the lasting progress of the organization.
  • Prioritize tasks, and determine which can be temporarily put on hold.
  • Introspectively discover any anxiety that may be holding you back personally.

2. Be Aware of Your Own Biases

An important part of being a rational critical thinker is being self-aware enough to monitor and question your own thoughts. What does it mean to think more strategically? Being in charge of your own mind. Acknowledging that your thoughts or ideas could be flawed does not impinge your own credibility, it does quite the opposite. You are open to verifying facts and thinking outside the box to create new ideas.

  • What are my current circumstances?
  • Is my perspective realistic?
  • What other points did I not consider that I should have?
  • What does my point of view imply?

3. Improve Listening Skills

A critical thinker accepts that their ideas may be flawed and therefore listens to others intently to learn more from others’ perspectives. Every team member is valuable and should be heard. Developing keen listening skills will encourage others to voice their opinions and foster an atmosphere where everyone contributes strategically as a cohesive unit. These tips will help you make the most out of listening opportunities.

  • Have an open mind free of biases
  • Be open to feedback from others
  • Listen attentively with a desire to learn a new perspective
  • Evaluate what was heard and identify the most valuable point(s) learned

4. Hone Questioning Skills

Thinking critically requires you to question everything. Not from a cynical point of view, but in a way that constructively allows you to see ideas objectively. Just because a system of thinking or idea is commonly accepted as the standard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be questioned. Taking the time to question something opens the door for improvement.

Here are a few examples of strategic thinking questions to ask in the process of critical evaluation:

  • Is the idea rational?
  • Is the source credible? Was the information from a trusted expert, or was it hearsay?
  • What are the assumptions and biases with each option?
  • Identify proof that exists to support the theory

5. Understand the Consequences

Every choice has consequences. After questioning different sources and points of view, think through the repercussions of each option. This step is important in final decision-making, and with practice, it will become easier. Identifying the effects of different scenarios rationally is important to final decision-making. Ask these questions to gauge what outcome will align best with the vision of your organization.

  • What are the pros and cons of each?
  • What does each imply?
  • Which will help meet our goals best?
  • Is there an option that will open long-term opportunities?

The ability to overcome one’s own egocentrism for the purpose of open-mindedly seeking new perspectives for the most credible solution leads to creativity, progress, and innovation. When those in leadership positions are experienced critical thinkers, meetings become more productive, and business goals are met faster. Fostering an environment where all perspectives are valued, and encouraging all employees to think critically will pave the way for future success.

Learning critical, important strategic thinking skills is valuable for anyone. Everyone has the potential to influence future progress. Discover how CMOE can improve strategic thinking skills. Investing in training initiatives today will cultivate high-performance productivity tomorrow.

How to build strategic thinking skills for effective leadership

Don’t be shy about bringing your ideas to the table.

Developing your strategic thinking skills isn’t enough to get you promoted. In order to advance in your career, you need to demonstrate them. Leaders want to know what you think, and they view your worthiness for promotion through the lens of how ready you are to make bigger decisions. Ask yourself: “Do people know where I stand?” If not, what do you need to do to bring your perspective to the table? It’s also important to demonstrate that you can put new ideas into action. Take the initiative on new projects that show how your understanding extends beyond your current function.

Don’t be shy about bringing your ideas to the table.

We all know that developing strategic thinking skills is important, but many don’t realize how critical it is to your career advancement to show these skills to your boss and other senior leaders. Showing strategic thinking skills tells your bosses that you’re able to think for yourself and make decisions that position the organization for the future. It assures them that you aren’t making decisions in a vacuum but are considering how other departments might be affected or how the outside world will respond.

When I’m helping my coaching clients learn to think more strategically, I emphasize that developing and demonstrating these skills are very different challenges.

  • Developing great strategic thinking skills requires you to gain exposure to strategic roles, synthesize broad information, participate in a culture of curiosity, and gather experiences that allow you to identify patterns and connect the dots in novel ways. That’s why high-potential and leadership development programs often include job rotations, cross-functional projects, and face time with senior leadership — these all accelerate the development of strategic thinking.
  • Demonstrating strategic thinking, on the other hand, requires that you are simultaneously a marketer, a salesperson, and a change agent. Proactive and widespread communication of your strategic efforts combined with the courage to challenge others and initiate and drive your strategic ideas are what make your boss and peers take notice.

The case of one of my coaching clients illustrates the steps you need to take to show off your strategic thinking skills. Tim Waters (not his real name), vice president of the U.S. supply chain for a growing medical products company, hoped to be named global senior vice president of supply chain but sensed that his promotion discussions were stalled. Tim had a good reputation for responding to business unit leads, and he worked tirelessly and effectively to keep the supply chain functioning well. He was therefore surprised to receive informal feedback from the head of HR, a longtime colleague and friend, who said that a few influential executives had voiced concern that Tim “wasn’t strategic enough.” These executives felt Tim was good at keeping the trains running, but he had not driven proactive change in the organization or set a strategic vision for supply chain. Tim was a strong strategic thinker, but he wasn’t doing it in a way his bosses could see it. He decided to engage an executive coach to help him learn how to demonstrate these skills.

Bring a point of view to the table

Your leaders want to know what you think, and they view your worthiness for promotion through the lens of how ready you are to make bigger decisions. By asking yourself, “Do people know where I stand?” you can sharpen your ability to demonstrate this skill.

Tim made efforts to update his understanding of trends and to refresh his network but realized that he wasn’t putting the knowledge learned to good use. One of the first changes he made was to instruct his assistant to block out 30 minutes on his calendar before important meetings. He knew that barely having time to collect his thoughts before going into meetings made him unprepared, less vocal, and less capable of synthesizing and sharing his knowledge. Just a half hour, once or twice a week, would allow him to shape his point of view on important issues.

Tim’s efforts began to pay off over time, and he was able to shift his contributions in senior executive meetings from operational input to strategic input. He took time to package his ideas into a vision for the organization and engaged his peers in new discussions about how the vision could impact their areas.

Having greater clarity of vision also enhanced Tim’s effectiveness as a supervisor. Tim was able to see how his team was missing the specific skills needed to support the vision. Now, instead of having reactive discussions with his HR business partner, he was able to engage in forward-looking discussions about strategic hiring and leadership development opportunities for his team. Demonstrating that you think strategically about hiring and talent development is a surefire way to make your leaders notice you.

Show that you can initiate innovation and bring strategic change

To be viewed as a strategic thinker, you must also demonstrate that you can use your knowledge to put new ideas into action. No matter your level, you can demonstrate strategic thinking by executing an innovative project that shows that your understanding extends beyond your current function.

Tim channeled the new energy and vision he had gained into a strategic planning process that culminated in formal recommendations for the supply chain group. Tim communicated the project and its milestones across the organization, allowing the executive team to see that he could lead a strategic initiative; previously, Tim would have kept it behind the scenes. Boldly suggesting value-added changes was a welcome shift to both Tim and his colleagues. Tim felt he had greater control, projecting greater confidence because he was no longer just reacting to others’ suggestions and issues, and Tim’s colleagues also appreciated that he was initiating improvements without their prodding.

Tim’s journey to demonstrating strategic thinking took him longer than he had expected, but over time, his boss, peers, and team noticed the changes and viewed them positively. Tim was promoted to the global role a year later and was ultimately better equipped to navigate the role.

Strategic thinking skills, in an ideal world would be something developed at all levels of an organisation. However, realistically speaking, strategically smart workers would not be much use if their managers and bosses are not strategic! So an organisation needs to lead by example and develop strategic thinking skills in their management, or recruit strategic thinkers at high levels.

What strategic thinking skills are the most useful?

There a range of skills that can directly lead to improved company performance and affect the bottom line, while other skills may be seen as a luxury for future development. Let us start with 3 strategic thinking skills without which most organisations would flounder

  1. The strategic thinking skill of OBJECTIVE setting. Now, this may seem obvious but in reality a lot of companies and managers are dreadful at setting objectives. At best, the objectives are fluffy and vague, at worst they are completely unachievable. We all know about SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related objectives – but they can become no more than tick boxes if no strategic thinking skills are applied to setting them. Strategic thinking about objectives can actually see the end result and work back, breaking down each step into manageable tasks for every level of the workforce. At the same time the strategic thinker never loses sight of the big picture.
  1. The strategic thinking skill of FLEXIBILITY. Why include this in the top 3 list? The 21st century is a tough environment for business and the ability to think out of the box and adapt to change is a crucial thinking skill nowadays. Flexibility as a strategic thinking skill is not just based around being able to react quickly to change- it is about having considered the possibility of change in advance. The strategic thinker can see several scenarios at once and is able to move between them, changing direction when encountering obstacles. In much the same way a skilled chess player can see the potential variations and implications of both theirs and their opponents moves.
  1. The strategic thinking skill of COLLABORATION. It may seem at first glance that the strategic thinker is a rather lofty and isolated person, perhaps a bit too clever for those around them? Not at all; the true strategic thinker is a collaborative beast- they harness the talents and ideas of others. Strategic thinking requires you to be a good listener and accept that others ideas have value.

How to develop strategic thinking skills in management?

  1. Give your senior staff time to think! Part of teacher training is a process called reflective learning and teachers also apply that to their students. If there is no quiet time to reflect on success and/or failure you are more likely to experience continuing failure. Companies that flog their management to death with anti-social working hours, skipped lunch breaks and unreasonable demands on their time will reap the benefit with stressed, burnt out executives whose performance will suffer. Strategic thinking takes time, but can become faster and more second nature if nurtured.
  1. Encourage left brain/right brain activity. Strategic thinking skills are most evident in people who use both sides of their brains to problem solve. This means marrying the creative and the logical. Much of management is linear and logical, and the creative side is left to “specialists” who also scorn the logical and practical. This inevitably leads to conflict across the boardroom table. With practice and collaboration, you can enhance the strategic thinking skills of both your accountant and your graphic designer- making them work together could yield extraordinary results.
  1. Establish a culture of learning, not just going to trade conferences, but learning other skills. If your finance officer wants to study Art History, let them, support them; it will develop another aspect of their thinking they can then apply in the workplace. Lifelong learning has shown to ward of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative illnesses. The brain also needs exercise to develop strategic thinking skills.

Simple and fun ideas to encourage strategic thinking skills in the workplace

Developing strategic thinking skills in the workplace does not have to be expensive or complicated. Here are some fun ideas for making the company culture more thinking friendly.

a). Start a chess club – it is refined “war on a board” and encourages forward thinking- plus it is something all levels of ability can play. The Art of War is the ultimate strategic thinking book as I explained in my last post

b). Swap out your usual team building exercises with something more like a treasure hunt with challenges both physical and mental. Camaraderie is good to build, but encouraging tem problem solving will improve everyone’s strategic thinking skills.

c). Give your workers a break room with Sudoku, crosswords, even dig out the old Rubik’s cube! Puzzles are good for left and right brain development.

Strategic thinking skills can be developed if the culture is there and ultimately the company will benefit.

How to build strategic thinking skills for effective leadership

John Wildgoose/Caiaimage / Getty Images

The needs of customers and organizations (large and small) are changing at the speed of technology and increased diversity. More than ever, businesses need strategic thinkers.

Strategic planning is an important skill for a number of jobs. While some people hold the specific job title of “strategic planner” (or “strategic planning associate” or “strategic planning manager”), there are other jobs that require strategic planning skills even though “strategic” may not be in the position’s title. Basically, management consultants, business developers, corporate developers, strategic cost analysts, and operations analysts all need strong strategic planning skills.

What Are Strategic Planning Skills?

Strategic planning is the process of setting a vision for a company and then realizing that vision through small, achievable goals. People who work in strategic planning help set goals, decide what actions need to be taken by employees, and help employees achieve those goals.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the required skills listed by the employer.

Types of Strategic Planning Skills

Analytical

People working in strategic planning need to be able to analyze and evaluate a company’s business plan. They have to be skilled in market analysis, feasibility analysis, and more. Only through an analytical eye can strategic planners decide what steps a company needs to take.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Calculating Costs for Implementation
  • Critical Thinking
  • Defining Mechanisms for Input
  • Defining Purpose of the Strategic Planning Process
  • Developing a Plan for Implementing Strategies
  • Logical Thinking
  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Systematic Thinking

Communication

A large part of a strategic planner’s job is communicating a business plan to employers and employees. They have to explain (by both speaking and writing) the steps employees need to take to achieve company goals. Strategic planners also need to be active listeners. They have to listen to the needs of the employers before devising a plan of action. They also need to listen to the concerns and ideas of their peers and subordinates.

  • Collaboration
  • Facilitating Group Discussion
  • Creating Mission/Vision Statements
  • Handling Constructive Criticism
  • Engaging Reluctant Members in Discussions
  • Negotiation
  • People Skills
  • Persuasiveness
  • Pitching
  • Public Speaking
  • MS PowerPoint
  • Presentation
  • Tact
  • Team Building
  • Teamwork
  • Verbal Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Active Listening

Decisiveness

Strategic planning involves frequent decision making. Strategic planners must select a course of action to help a company achieve its goals without constant doubts and overthought. They need to be able to examine all of the information available to them and then confidently make a thoughtful decision.

  • Delegating
  • Assigning Leaders
  • Building Consensus
  • Establishing Measurable Objectives for Goals/Projects
  • Creating and Enforcing Timelines
  • Prioritizing
  • Goal Oriented
  • Confidence

Leadership

A strategic planner has to lead subordinates, peers, and supervisors towards a common goal. This takes strong leadership skills. He or she has to inspire, motivate, and ensure all team members remain loyal to project goals.

  • Energetic
  • Establishing Incentives
  • Charisma
  • Flexibility
  • Interpersonal
  • Management
  • Motivational
  • Recognizing the Contributions of Key Players
  • Resourcefulness

Problem Solving

Often, strategic planners are there to solve a problem. Perhaps a company is not meeting its financial goals, or its processes are running inefficiently. A strategic planner analyzes data related to the problem and then offers a solution.

  • Aligning Business Practices with Emerging Strategy
  • Assessment
  • Brainstorming
  • Creativity
  • Evaluation
  • Identifying Obstacles
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Multitasking
  • Stress Tolerance

More Strategic Planning Skills

  • Defining Milestones
  • Project Management
  • Auditing
  • Recruiting
  • Memory
  • Human Resources
  • Talent Management
  • Scheduling
  • Process Management
  • Ongoing Improvement
  • Marketing
  • Manufacturing
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Data Analysis
  • Statistics
  • Research
  • Customer Segmentation
  • Recognizing Industry Trends
  • Intentionality
  • Mind Map Software
  • Long-term Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Restructuring
  • Risk Management
  • Benchmarking
  • Causal Relationships

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Add Relevant Skills to Your Resume: You can use these skill words in your resume by including these keywords in descriptions throughout your work history.

Highlight Skills in Your Cover Letter: In the body of your cover letter, try to mention one or two of these skills and give specific examples of how you have demonstrated those skills in the workplace.

Use Skill Words in Your Job Interview: Make sure you have at least one example of a time you demonstrated each of the top skills listed above.

Strategic thinking skills, in an ideal world would be something developed at all levels of an organisation. However, realistically speaking, strategically smart workers would not be much use if their managers and bosses are not strategic! So an organisation needs to lead by example and develop strategic thinking skills in their management, or recruit strategic thinkers at high levels.

What strategic thinking skills are the most useful?

There a range of skills that can directly lead to improved company performance and affect the bottom line, while other skills may be seen as a luxury for future development. Let us start with 3 strategic thinking skills without which most organisations would flounder

  1. The strategic thinking skill of OBJECTIVE setting. Now, this may seem obvious but in reality a lot of companies and managers are dreadful at setting objectives. At best, the objectives are fluffy and vague, at worst they are completely unachievable. We all know about SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related objectives – but they can become no more than tick boxes if no strategic thinking skills are applied to setting them. Strategic thinking about objectives can actually see the end result and work back, breaking down each step into manageable tasks for every level of the workforce. At the same time the strategic thinker never loses sight of the big picture.
  1. The strategic thinking skill of FLEXIBILITY. Why include this in the top 3 list? The 21st century is a tough environment for business and the ability to think out of the box and adapt to change is a crucial thinking skill nowadays. Flexibility as a strategic thinking skill is not just based around being able to react quickly to change- it is about having considered the possibility of change in advance. The strategic thinker can see several scenarios at once and is able to move between them, changing direction when encountering obstacles. In much the same way a skilled chess player can see the potential variations and implications of both theirs and their opponents moves.
  1. The strategic thinking skill of COLLABORATION. It may seem at first glance that the strategic thinker is a rather lofty and isolated person, perhaps a bit too clever for those around them? Not at all; the true strategic thinker is a collaborative beast- they harness the talents and ideas of others. Strategic thinking requires you to be a good listener and accept that others ideas have value.

How to develop strategic thinking skills in management?

  1. Give your senior staff time to think! Part of teacher training is a process called reflective learning and teachers also apply that to their students. If there is no quiet time to reflect on success and/or failure you are more likely to experience continuing failure. Companies that flog their management to death with anti-social working hours, skipped lunch breaks and unreasonable demands on their time will reap the benefit with stressed, burnt out executives whose performance will suffer. Strategic thinking takes time, but can become faster and more second nature if nurtured.
  1. Encourage left brain/right brain activity. Strategic thinking skills are most evident in people who use both sides of their brains to problem solve. This means marrying the creative and the logical. Much of management is linear and logical, and the creative side is left to “specialists” who also scorn the logical and practical. This inevitably leads to conflict across the boardroom table. With practice and collaboration, you can enhance the strategic thinking skills of both your accountant and your graphic designer- making them work together could yield extraordinary results.
  1. Establish a culture of learning, not just going to trade conferences, but learning other skills. If your finance officer wants to study Art History, let them, support them; it will develop another aspect of their thinking they can then apply in the workplace. Lifelong learning has shown to ward of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative illnesses. The brain also needs exercise to develop strategic thinking skills.

Simple and fun ideas to encourage strategic thinking skills in the workplace

Developing strategic thinking skills in the workplace does not have to be expensive or complicated. Here are some fun ideas for making the company culture more thinking friendly.

a). Start a chess club – it is refined “war on a board” and encourages forward thinking- plus it is something all levels of ability can play. The Art of War is the ultimate strategic thinking book as I explained in my last post

b). Swap out your usual team building exercises with something more like a treasure hunt with challenges both physical and mental. Camaraderie is good to build, but encouraging tem problem solving will improve everyone’s strategic thinking skills.

c). Give your workers a break room with Sudoku, crosswords, even dig out the old Rubik’s cube! Puzzles are good for left and right brain development.

Strategic thinking skills can be developed if the culture is there and ultimately the company will benefit.

Strategic leadership doesn’t come easily in most organizations. Statistics show that fewer than 10% of leaders exhibit strategic skills, a woefully inadequate number considering the demands on organizations today. Strategic skills aren’t needed only in times of growth. During tough times, when resources are tight, it is even more important to ensure those resources are focused in the right areas.

Leaders throughout organizations face tremendous pressures to make short-term numbers and show immediate wins. Operational leadership rules the day. This can lead to a lack of focus–as one executive recently put it, “We’re running fast in many different directions.” Additionally, leaders who excel at meeting short-term targets and solving functional problems may feel paralyzed and unsure when the challenges in front of them are far reaching and complex–a situation we’ve seen consistently in these recession years.

How do we lead in ways that position a business for the future while meeting current demands? It does require a different set of skills from operational leadership. Strategic leadership requires us to think, act and influence others in ways that promote the enduring success of the organization.

First, strategic thinking is grounded in a strong understanding of the complex relationship between the organization and its environment. It requires taking a broad view, involving the right people, with important information and perspectives, asking probing questions and facilitating conversations. Strategic thinkers then identify connections, patterns and key issues.

To boost the level of strategic thinking as you or your team work on a challenge, pose these questions:

–What external or industry data are important for my analysis of and response to the challenge?

–Why is it important that we succeed with this challenge?

–How does this challenge (and my solution and approach) relate to issues and challenges elsewhere in the organization?

–Who are the key stakeholders? What data do they have (opinions, needs, experiences, perspectives, etc.) that are relevant to the challenge and to my response?

–In what ways do my own experiences and biases limit my view of the situation?

–How can I reframe the challenge and see it from different angles?

–What single factor, if acted on, would create the greatest leverage on the result?

Next, strategic acting involves taking decisive action that is consistent with the strategic direction of the organization–despite all ambiguity, complexity and chaos. A strategic plan is only a plan; an organization’s actual strategies lie in the decisions and choices people make.

Strategic leaders act in ways that manage the tension between success in daily tasks and success in the long term. They facilitate other’s strategic actions, too, by providing a balance of direction and autonomy, of learning from actions and rewarding appropriate risk-taking. Questions to help you and your team evaluate the strategic consistency of your actions include:

–How is my response consistent with the overall direction of the organization? Are there ways in which it is inconsistent with that direction?

–What, if anything, is keeping me from settling on a solution or approach? How much more information do I need so that I can make the decision in a timely way, even if I am not totally comfortable yet?

–What are the risks in this solution? What contingency plans can I put in place?

–What are the most critical priority areas for me or us to focus on? Am I sending any mixed signals about those priorities?

–Assuming that implementation will not be perfect, what can I do to create an environment where unexpected results are treated as learning opportunities rather than failures?

Finally, strategic influencing is about building commitment to the organization’s strategic direction by inviting others into the strategic process, forging relationships inside and outside the organization, and navigating the political landscape.

To effectively influence others, leaders must understand the impact that they have on them. They should also understand the needs, styles and motivations of others. To apply strategic influencing skills to a challenge, ask yourself:

–What will it look like if I succeed? What is my vision?

–Who else needs to be on board to make this successful? How will this solution or approach help (or hinder) the achievement of their goals and objectives?

–Are there other organizational systems, processes or structures that need to be in alignment to facilitate that change? What do I need to do to create that alignment?

–Are there any stories I can use when talking to others that illustrate how we need to behave and will inspire others to do so?

–How willing am I to let my vision be shaped by others’ visions?

–Who might I solicit to help me champion my efforts? How can I get them on board?

–What political realities might affect my success in this challenge? How might I navigate those realities without limiting my credibility?

Ultimately, strategic leadership is both an organizational and a personal process, and it is one that today’s businesses cannot afford to ignore. The job of strategy is not limited to a few top executives. Strategic leaders are needed throughout our organizations if they are to adapt, innovate and succeed well into the future.

Katherine Colarelli Beatty is the director of global portfolio management at the Center for Creative Leadership and is co-author of Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success.

Here you will learn what is strategic thinking and which are basic strategic thinking skills and examples.

As one of the best manager and leadership qualities, strategic thinking has a crucial role in every business and strategic planning process. The right strategy is one of the most effective tools, techniques and attributes for success in the personal and business life.

What is strategic thinking? Strategic thinking skills list.

What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking is the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. On a business level, strategy thinking means that you are able to come up with effective plans to resolve a situation or to achieve a company’s goal.

This kind of thinking requires a wide range of strategic thinking skills that every good leadership have to possess. But strategic thinking in not only a leadership quality, it is an important ability and tool for every one of us. It allows us to manage better our personal and business life and to achieve different types of success.

On a management and leadership level , strategy thinking is the main part of the strategic planning process which involves a wide range of activities such as goals settings, task delegation, developing plans, decision making, analyzing environment, and much more. An effective planning process requires really good strategic thinking abilities and qualities.

Basic strategic thinking skills list:

  • Clear vision about what you want to achieve

If you would like to achieve something, you will first need something to aim for. Set your goals and define your vision clearly, because it is your direction that you have to follow.

  • Understand and analyse your current position and resources

If you want to go somewhere, you have to know where you are now and what available resources you have. Collecting information about your current position and resources is a key tool that you need to go ahead.

  • Prioritization

You have no time and resources for all your goals and tasks. Pick up the most important of them.

  • Develop a strategic action plan

One of the most important strategic thinking skills is to develop the right action plan. The plan has to contain the clear answer to the question how to achieve your goals. Main attributes of a successful strategic plan are clear goals and tasks , a list of needed resources and timeline.

Business situations and environment are changeable, sometimes dramatic changeable and you have to be ready to act effectively in different situations.

Good leaders and managers always are prepared for unexpected future. This is one of the best strategic thinking skills and examples.

The ability to learn is one of the best leadership skills and qualities. Good strategic thinking requires the ability to observe and to learn. Search for the lessons in both successful and unsuccessful situations.

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About the Author Marin Valchev

Marin Valchev, PMP is an IT Project Manager with more than 10 years of experience. He implements cutting-edge technology in a wide-range of Financial and TELCO companies in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Marin shares his knowledge of software, analysis, project management and other business areas.

In its simplest form, strategic thinking is an ability to plan for the future. It’s the capacity to prepare strategies and conjure ideas that will both cope with changing environments and consider the various challenges that lie ahead. Candidates that possess strategic thinking skills will be seen as top talent, and it’s a quality that makes many managers, directors and executives the successful leaders they are. Here’s our advice on becoming a powerful strategic thinker.

4 key qualities of strategic thinkers

Bring to your mind a professional leader you admire. Have you chosen them because of their innovation, intelligence or ability to engage audiences? Or maybe you like their capacity to critique process and procedure while still being receptive to feedback and change? If your model leader possesses any of the above qualities, they’re a strategic thinker. Here are four qualities that all strategic thinkers possess, and continue to work on throughout their lives:

  1. They’re always learning
    Strategic thinking skills are developed by committing to constant learning and self-improvement. Whether it’s learning from their own experiences, the experiences of others, books, presentations, networks, conferences or junior colleagues, strategic thinkers don’t dismiss any potential sources of education.
  2. They always seek advice from others
    In the spirit of being able to prepare for the future and make constant improvements, strategic thinkers welcome feedback and advice from others. They test ideas and concepts and ensure that criticisms are examined and incorporated where relevant. This process makes their plans and strategies as robust and steadfast as possible.
  3. They’re not afraid to take risks
    Great strategic thinkers understand that professional excellence doesn’t always emerge from a cookie-cutter approach. After careful consideration, they take risks on new ideas, innovative solutions and unique pitches, prepared for both success and failure, and always willing to learn from their mistakes.
  4. They never forget organisational purpose
    Whether a business builds intuitive websites for clients or sells diverse share portfolios, strategic thinkers will never neglect their purpose or people. If the strategic thinking and planning doesn’t revolve around these two key elements, it has failed to be strategic at all.

Improving your strategic thinking skills

It should be clear by now that strategic thinking is immensely valuable for progressing your career, but that it also has wide application in your personal life. It’s a skill that enables you to plan and apply reason to many challenges that you face, always seeking the best and most effective solution. So how do you get it? Start working on these areas to enhance your strategic thinking skills, no matter what role or industry you’re in.

  • Be proactive
    Understanding that strategic thinking is all about being prepared for the future, take initiative and do things before you’re asked to, or you need to respond reactively. Did you obtain extra copies of a board report in anticipation of those who have not provided an RSVP? Have you been backing up all the departments key files onto an additional source in case of system crash? If so, you tick the proactive box, and keep up the good work.
  • Understand counter arguments
    It would be rare for a strategic thinker to believe that their ideas, and their ideas alone, were always right. Developing an understanding and appreciation of opposing ideas, opinions, arguments or positions will develop your strategic thinking skills by creating an understanding of the whole picture. The more you explore alternative arguments, the easier you’ll find seeing projects and ideas holistically will become.
  • Constantly optimise
    No matter what project or piece of work you’re tasked with, always look for ways to optimise and improve what you produce. Strategic thinking is all about being able to recast strategy and reset direction; being adaptable and ambitious simultaneously. Make sure everything you work on, from a social media report, to a team presentation, to a market research paper generates maximum value.
  • Keep up-to-date with news and trends
    Join networks, read widely, engage with employees from different teams in your organisation and look for clues of upcoming trends and concepts everywhere you can. Understand how your role works not just in the context of your workplace, but more broadly in businesses across Australia, or even globally. Seek out mentors and experts who can share their own experiences and tips for keeping on top of the most important and current ideas relevant to you.

Strategic thinking is an ability to envisage new solutions to old problems, and to constantly reinvent your point of view in a way that is unique, and benefits the purpose of your organisation. It’s a key skill required if you have any intention of climbing the corporate ladder, so start work on your strategic thinking skills today.

How to build strategic thinking skills for effective leadership

Starting your day by thinking about what kind of leader you want to be can make you more effective at work, a new study finds.

“It’s as simple as taking a few moments in the morning while you’re drinking your coffee to reflect on who you want to be as a leader,” said Remy Jennings, a doctoral student in the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, who authored the study in the journal Personnel Psychology with UF management professor Klodiana Lanaj.

When study participants took that step, they were more likely to report helping co-workers and providing strategic vision than on days they didn’t do the morning reflection. They also felt more leaderlike on those days, perceiving more power and influence in the office.

The effects also extended to aspiring leaders.

“Leadership is really challenging, so a lot of people are hesitant to tackle leadership roles or assignments,” Lanaj said. “Reflecting a few minutes in the morning really makes a difference.”

And unlike being given extra responsibility or leading a team project, a morning reflection is under the employee’s control.

“They’re not dependent on their organization to provide formal opportunities. They don’t have to wait until they have that title that says they’re a leader to take on leadership in their work,” Jennings said.

Want to try a morning leadership boost? Here are some prompts recommended by the researchers.

  • What are some of your proudest leadership moments?
  • What qualities do you have that make you a good leader, or will in the future?
  • Think about who you aspire to be as a leader, then imagine everything has gone as well as it possibly could in this leader role. What does that look like?
  • What effect do you want to have on your employees? Do you want to motivate them? Inspire them? Identify and develop their talents? What skills or traits do you have that can help with those goals?

Whether you’re the boss or on your way up the ladder, “this is a tool to be more effective at work,” Lanaj said. “Just a few minutes can entirely change your focus for the rest of your day.”