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The Strategic Leap: Transforming from Operational to Visionary Leadership

Strategic thinking

As you step into leadership, one of the biggest challenges you'll face is shifting from being a hands-on "get things done" type of leader to becoming a strategic thinker.

It's a paradox of success in leadership.

While your ability to execute has always brought you results and opportunities for growth, as you climb the ranks, strategic thinking becomes essential for continued success.

As a Fractional Human Resource Officer, I work with many leaders who recognize the importance of strengthening their strategic muscle, but they're often unsure of where to start. Strategic thinking can seem like a mysterious concept, but I've got your back. Let's break it down together.

First things first, let's define what strategy means to us. For me, it's all about deciding where and how we'll achieve success.

To make strategic decisions, it's crucial to understand how we make those decisions.

  • What information do we need?

  • Where can we find it?

  • What's the thinking process?

The complexity, uncertainty, and risk of unintended consequences can sometimes stump us, but don't worry, with practice, we can improve our strategic thinking skills.

Now, onto the five steps that can help you sharpen your strategic thinking abilities.

Take a breather from busyness

This step forms the foundation for everything else. It's natural to find comfort in solving today's problems and getting things done. After all, it's familiar territory. But if we want to think strategically, we must master the art of stepping away from the day-to-day grind.

By thinking beyond our functional area and looking at the bigger picture, we open ourselves up to broader perspectives and opportunities. Just like Steve Jobs, who would take periodic breaks where he would step away from day-to-day operations to focus on long-term planning and strategic thinking.

These periods of time off allowed Jobs to reflect on the company's direction, evaluate future opportunities, and develop innovative ideas.

Embrace learning by looking outside

When companies find themselves stumbling or caught off guard by strategic shifts in the market, it's often because they weren't paying attention. Insular thinking can be the culprit.

Instead, let's make it a regular practice to raise our heads and look at industry and economic trends.

What's happening with our competition? How are customer needs evolving?

By looking beyond our internal bubble, we fuel our learning, which leads to fresh ideas and innovation. You might be surprised by the sparks that fly.

Challenge assumptions, biases and limiting beliefs

Strategic ideas often meet their untimely demise due to our own preconceived notions and beliefs. "We've always done it this way" or "We tried that, and it didn't work." Sound familiar?

Strategic thinkers recognize the value of all perspectives. They purposefully consider a range of viewpoints, from the optimistic dreamers to the skeptical contrarians.

By listening with an open mind and asking insightful questions, we can dig deeper, validate assumptions, and verify facts. It's also essential to break free from short-term thinking and consider long-term risks and rewards.

Spot patterns and connections

As we practice stepping away, looking outside, and challenging assumptions, it's crucial to take a moment to observe emerging patterns and themes.

What do you see? Are there any connections or commonalities? Anything we can leverage?

Strategic individuals, as noted by Harvard Business Review, excel at creating connections between ideas, plans, and people that others fail to see.

By identifying and interpreting patterns, we gain 20-20 vision that helps uncover critical clues to strategic opportunities.

Find a strategic partner

This step can significantly accelerate your progress. Who do you know that's known for their strategic thinking abilities?

Enlist them as your accountability partner. Choose someone who genuinely cares about your success and can observe your behavior on a regular basis.

Let them know that you're actively working on your strategic thinking skills and ask for their feedback and tips along the way. Establishing this feedback loop will pay you dividends and fast-track your strategic growth.

Last Words

Remember, each of these steps requires practice. If strategic thinking doesn't come naturally to you, that's okay.

With dedication and discipline, you can develop this skill like any other. And keep in mind, while each step is important, it's the synergy of all five that creates a comprehensive approach to enhancing your strategic thinking prowess.

Let's make strategic thinking our habit, because, in the end, it's habits that lead to mastery.

About the Author

Carol Fraser, Fractional Chief Human Officer

Carol Fraser

Fractional Chief Human Resource Officer

With 20+ years of experience, Carol Fraser, a CHRO, and Certified Coach is dedicated to fostering collaborative, customer-centric, and inclusive organizations. As a Fractional CHRO, she optimizes workforce planning, performance management, and total rewards, driving business success, while offering expert-level HR services and coaching, empowering professionals to elevate their careers.

Read Carol's bio.

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