Everyone tells us we should be strategic thinkers, but what does that actually involve? Here’s a little exercise you can do right now that will make you more strategic.
Take a moment to see the world from a senior leader’s perspective. Think about the objectives of the person two levels up from you (your boss’s boss).
What will get them promoted?
What will get them fired?
What are their top objectives for the year?
Hat is their top priority for this week?
What pressures give them the most angst?
I just gave you a lot of questions, and you can surely think of more, however those ones are a good place to start. Ultimately, you are just trying to see the world through their eyes; answering these questions is one way to do so.
Take the time to write down your answers. Next, write down one implication those answers have for your own work.
Repeat the exercise looking one or two levels down. Do you really know what matters most to those workers? Do you know what it will take for them to give their best? For workers one or two levels down consider:
What events at work in the past month will have kept them motivated?
What events in the workplace bother them the most?
What are their top priorities for this week?
What prevents them from doing great work?
Take the time to write down your answers.
Next, write down one implication those answers have for your own work. Taking it to the next level This quick look up and look down exercise can be done in a few minutes. The next step is to validate your answers. If possible talk to the people above and below you and see what they say. If that’s not practical, then talk to people who know the leaders and workers and see how they answer those questions. It’s always revealing to find out whether other people see things the same way you do.
What you may discover from the exercise is that you were too focused on your own work to be fully aware of the concerns of the people above and below you. Once you understand what others are worried about then it will make your own priorities clearer.
Broadening your strategic thinking
We often talk about strategic thinking without being explicit as to what the term means. One way to think of it is the ability to see the world from a variety of perspectives, rather than just your own. You could also do this exercise of putting yourself in the shoes of your peers. Another way of broadening your perspective is to think of different time frames. What do priorities look like from a one month perspective? A one year perspective? A three year perspective? Envisage yourself in five years—what does that self, wish you were working on right now?
A strategic thinker does this kind of exercise as a matter of course. They always try to view things from a fresh angle and then connect the dots between the different perspectives. Do it often enough and your breadth of understanding will become a real advantage in your work.
I should end with a nod to Dr. Wanda T. Wallace whose great work on leadership inspired this blog.