Business acumen … strategic thinking … call it what you will. Leaders need to be able to see the big picture so they can set a course to achieve. And if you’ve set your career sights on leadership, start thinking beyond your day-to-day tasks. Be the best at what you do, but think bigger.
“Women represent 50 percent of middle management and professional positions. But the percentages of women at the top of organizations represent not even a third of that number,” says Susan Colantuono in a TED.com talk. Colantuono attributes this gap to women not receiving career advice about the huge weight of a critical competency — business strategy and financial acumen.
Career advancement is usually marked by broader and broader views of an organization. You move from junior to senior levels — analyst, associate, VP, director — or some hierarchy such as that.
As your career progresses, you usually develop high-level technical skills. But let’s say you want to move up ….
Your high-level technical skills do not necessarily translate into big-picture thinking. But that’s what leaders need … a broad awareness of the organization, an understanding of the various moving parts both internally and externally, and the ability to see opportunities and threats and make strategic decisions.
How can you develop your business acumen … and prepare yourself for leadership? How can you help others to view you as leadership material?
Seek. Listen. See. Think.
Learn about your company and your industry. Keep your ear to the ground and notice what’s going on. Here are the areas to focus your attention on:
- How does what you do each day affect your organization’s success?
- How does your company make money?
- How do the various departments of your business come together to make that happen?
- Who are your customers? Why do they buy from you instead of the competitor? Who are the top 10? What’s important to them?
- What’s happening in your industry? Are there new laws or trends that will have an eventual impact?
- Who are your competitors? How are they different than your company?
Set a goal. Plan to learn something new each week. At the end of the year, you’ll know 50 things about your company and industry that you didn’t know before (and that those around you may not have taken the time to learn.)
Don’t spend time expounding on all you’ve learned. Show managers what you know by asking informed questions about the work you’re doing, by making informed suggestions for changes. (As you learn and observe this will probably happen naturally — information has a way of helping you see bigger.)
Think about where you want to go. Your hard work demonstrates a strong work ethic. But broaden your thinking.
Sure, now you may be just a cog in the wheel. But if you know what makes that wheel go, what makes it stop, and what other wheels are next to yours, you increase your value to your organization. You make yourself vital. You may eventually get to steer … if you want to!