What is strategic thinking?

How would you respond to the question, what is strategic thinking? How would you describe strategic thinking to a team member or a mentee? Strategic thinking is often one of those terms we use when something isn’t going according to plan or when, in hindsight, we have a clear opinion of what should have happened. Have you ever said to yourself – why am I the only one who can think strategically?! 

Let’s move strategic thinking from an abstract concept to a practical approach. Let’s give some context and perspective to the way of thinking. 

First, let’s unpack strategy. In Making Strategy: Mapping Out Strategic Success (2011), we learn that “Strategy is about agreeing on priorities and then implementing those priorities towards the realization of organizational purpose.” We see strategy as a unifying tool that allows leaders to bring varying teams and team members together around a shared purpose based on priorities and an implementation plan. 

Next, we learn in Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success (2014) that three critical attributes describe the type of thinking leaders who demonstrate strategic thinking. Leaders who leverage strategic thinking in their work are collective, present yet future-oriented, and artful yet analytical.

Now let’s consider how we can put strategic thinking to work in our everyday work environment. 

As leaders, we are responsible for setting the tone for and facilitating collaboration across our teams and organizations. Tips for practicing strategic thinking during collaboration or teamwork settings include:

  • allowing space for diversity,
  • acknowledging the voice of team members,
  • celebrating the work of the team, and
  • holding individuals accountable.

We often face challenging situations as leaders and decision-makers – sometimes in reactive situations, unsure of the proper answer or correct response. One of the fundamental ways a leader can demonstrate strategic thinking during that time is by pausing and investing energy in framing the situation. When a leader pauses and frames that situation, they

  • 1) gather the relevant information,
  • 2) define the challenge or situation,
  • 3) analyze the opportunities associated with the challenge or situation, and
  • 4) reframe that challenge or situation toward possible positive futures.

This four-step process is quite simple – yet it takes discipline for a leader to practice. Strategic thinking is not impulsive. Strategic thinking does not always produce an immediate response.

Leader Reflection Question

I’ll ask you, how will you integrate, intentionally, strategic thinking into your leadership? 

ready to strengthen the leadership of your team