As an Executive Coach, I am constantly asked by bosses to help other executives under them be more strategic in their thinking, decision making, and their behavior.
My first reaction to this type of request has never changed. First, let’s clarify what you mean by being “more strategic” in their thinking or decision making.
Next, how does one evaluate success in terms of becoming more strategic? Would their thought process be different based on their conversation with their boss?
Would their plans to accomplish goals be different because of strategies, and would their decisions and observable results be different? Finally, would becoming more strategic show up in their leadership team as it is at the next level up?
So what is strategic thinking? Carl Von Clausewitz’s book, “On War”, describes it as “the clash of opposing will”. Creating strategy means working in an environment of ever-present uncertainty which is created by intelligent and opposing thoughts. Clausewitz pointed out that there must be four elements present to encourage strategic thinking:
- Certainty must end when strategy begins
- Antagonistic point of views must be allowed
- High level of intelligence must be present
- There must be a strong purpose behind the strategic discussion
This is what bosses need to do in their leadership teams to encourage and develop strategic thinking. Starting at this level, this process can spread.
Recently, one of my clients shared with me that she thinks there is always room for strategic thinking once an objective is established and uncertainty exists in meeting that objective. I agreed with her, provided the boss is committed to creating collaborative intelligence within their team.
The key ingredients of good strategic thinking are:
- There must be a purpose or objective.
- Team members must have a high level of creative and rational intelligence.
- Individuals must have a high regard for their opinions and allow others the same privilege of expressing their opinions as well.
- Social and emotional intelligence must be present in team members for the process to work. The constructive conflict must be managed so it does not get out-of-hand.
- The boss or team leader has to lead the thinking in this direction; understanding that consensus does not mean it is the right decision.
I believe the best way to nurture strategic thinking is for team leaders to become savvy in building highly intelligent teams that work very well over time.
People need to feel that they can challenge each other with the intent that all options are considered for a given action to succeed. The goal of strategic thinking should always be why a tactical move would work to achieve the objective.