Maybe you’re not a leader … yet. So, you’re thinking, “no need to worry about that.” But, strategic thinking doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that takes practice. So now is actually the perfect time to start practicing … every day.
It’s comfortable and easy to attach yourself to your day-to-day tasks. Putting out fires is a daily occurrence for many of us. And getting all those things done is important to keeping the job you were hired to do. Your top priority is obviously getting the work done.
The trick is to not get so caught up in the work that you don’t stop to consider if there’s a better way to do things … or how your actions are helping to achieve goals. Strategic thinkers consistently ask why and when. They gather information. They solve problems objectively. They innovate. They plan ahead. They adjust. They recognize how their actions affect other departments, the company as a whole, customers, etc., not just now, but long term.
If you haven’t focused on big-picture thinking before now, that may be by unintentional design. Most companies reward employees based on short-term solutions and accomplishments. These incentives are designed to keep you focused on the immediate demands of your job. But, while companies do need that focus, they also greatly need your innovation and ideas.
Talk to your boss about your desire to expand beyond the required job skills. Ask for big-picture information that might help you better understand the role you play in organizational goals. Then, here are some ways to get you started in your strategic thinking.
- Take time to think about problems you face at work — delays, bottlenecks, people, slow procedures, certain customers, etc.
- Select one of these problems — one problem at a time usually works best.
- Study that problem. (Be sure to choose a problem that you have control over, so you could potentially solve that problem.)
- Determine what information you need to help solve this problem, and do your best to get it.
- Analyze and digest the information you’ve collected.
- What are your options? Are there short-term solutions? Long term? Are your choices limited by budget, time, or power?
- Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
- Make a choice and monitor what happens. Be ready to change your approach if the outcome doesn’t shift.
Repeating the same actions day after day will usually give you the same results. That’s great in a world where nothing changes. Gradual industry shifts can sneak up on organizations. Noticing these slight trends and calling attention to them makes organizations stronger. And, practicing your strategic thinking now helps you develop this vital leadership quality.