We’ve all been there, right? You can’t turn around without stepping in…it. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control(ish), something else goes sideways, and you’re left trying to put out yet another fire. And somehow, some way, amidst all that, you’re supposed to — get this — think strategically about the direction of your team, department, and organization. I can hear you now…
Think strategically? I can barely think about how I’m going to find time to use the restroom! Let alone have more than four seconds between issues that require my immediate attention to think “strategically” about pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Are you kidding me?!
I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself as you laugh.
Or curl up in the corner in the fetal position whilst sipping on a Capri Sun.
Here’s the thing though: Great leaders — strategic leaders — are able to think and make decisions in such a way that they’re putting the organization on a good trajectory for the future while at the same time making sure the more pressing, present-day matters are handled as well.
I know, I know. You’re thinking that that’s just not possible. But hang in there, because there’s hope.
Sometimes, executives’ and leaders’ default mode is to manage from an operational and/or tactical perspective (in the weeds) rather than leading from a strategic perspective. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, yes? Unfortunately, what can happen in those scenarios is that we’re successful at neither the tactical nor the strategic things, and our organizations really just need us to do the latter and empower our teams to handle the former.
Here are some things strategic leaders do…
Strategic leaders lead through the lens of a coherent organizational framework rooted in the organization’s identity, purpose, culture, and values
Strategic leaders understand that organizations and their leadership teams must have a coherent framework — or lens, if you will — that they’re all using to view and understand organizational life and strategy. Without this, you and your team won’t have a unified way of thinking about strategy and will be making decisions and forming strategy without an agreed upon purpose, culture, and values to guide those decisions. You’ll be strategizing toward different ends and with different frameworks.Your strategy should be guided by your organization's culture & purpose. #leadership Click To Tweet
Worse still, you’ll likely end up building “strategies” that are often little more than reactionary measures put in place to respond to whatever today’s pain points happen to be. Over time, you’ll notice that the organization has been thrashing fitfully back and forth, responding wildly to whatever crisis it perceives.
Strategic leaders utilize systems thinking
Systems thinking is a different methodology than ones we might be tempted to employ when looking at organizational issues that pop up. Systems thinking is more about conceptualizing wholes than parts. It’s more about identifying patterns, themes, and trajectories than it is about focusing on exclusively on a momentary pain point (You’ll notice I did not say you shouldn’t do anything about present pain points.). It’s more about understanding and learning about the interrelatedness of different systems and issues than it is about isolating events and situations from each other.
For example, traditionally, when an organizational trouble spot flares up, what we sometimes tend to do is zoom in and analyze individual parts of what’s going on. This often happens to the exclusion of looking holistically at the situation, identifying root causes, tracing back historical trends, and examining long-term, sustainable fixes. (Random fact from the logophile: The word analysis has at its etymological root the connotation of “breaking something into individual parts.”)
On the other hand, systems thinking takes a look at how the specific thing or present situation is being affected by and/or interacting with other things both inside and outside the aforementioned particular situation, whether that involve a person, team, department, organization, process, technology, or whatever the case may be.
So rather than continuing to zoom further and further in to this or that little aspect of something within one part of one situation or thing, systems thinking offers a better strategy by taking a more panoramic and dynamic view of what’s going on. It looks at a situation as not just that immediate situation, but rather as a larger number of interrelated things and situations between interrelated systems of different types that contributed to the immediate situation.Strategic leaders utilize systems thinking. It's so important to see the big picture. #leadership Click To Tweet
Strategic leaders develop strategic foresight
Foresight is a critical tool for any leader. It helps us understand and analyze the past, better understand the present, and see more clearly the potential and/or likely outcomes of future decisions, actions, and strategies. Foresight is rooted in your intuition, but is aided by your utilization of systems thinking, as well as other tools.Continually making decisions to solve only for the present only puts you behind. #leadership Click To Tweet
Strategic leaders learn to make decisions
This involves the ability to make decisions based on (1) your organization’s purpose and identity, (2) systems thinking, and (3) foresight. Doing so enables you and your team to make strategic decisions that are aligned with the broader organizational strategy and direction.
Strategic leaders encourage strategic collaboration
Here’s where we work together with others to form and refine strategies, and subsequently, tactics. (It’s important to note the order there; to reverse it is the tail wagging the dog.) Not only does doing this help you get additional eyes and minds on the major strategic initiatives you’re considering, but it also helps develop others.
Strategic leaders empower others to execute the tactics
And I mean really, truly empower folks to make stuff happen. Don’t “empower” people and then go hover. Coach them, develop them, and then get the heck out of the way. Resist the urge to do it yourself. It may feel like that would solve an immediate need; but in reality, it prevents you from being strategic and serving your team, as well as keeping you and your team from more long-term growth and strategic success.Do not empower people and then hover. Let people make stuff happen. #leadership #companyculture #hr Click To Tweet
Still stuck in the weeds?
If you find yourself engaged in operational or tactical stuff most of the time, or at least more of the time than you ought to be, take a step back and ask yourself why. Chances are that you’ve missed one or more of the above steps.
For more help with this, whether that be with leadership development, leadership coaching, or developing a culture more conducive to this, give us a shout here.