Monday, July 16, 2012

CEOs: Six Habits for True Strategic Thinking

By Virgil Carter
Are you the CEO or chief staff executive of your organization?  If so, you are the default leader for the strategic thinking and direction of your organization.  This doesn’t mean you are the only one in the organization involved in strategic thinking (or even the best strategic thinker), but as the CEO yours is the ultimate responsibility for developing, communicating and implementing successful strategy.  So how do you spend time thinking strategically?

“If you find yourself resisting "being strategic," because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you're not alone”, writes Paul J. H. Schoemaker, in a recent Inc. article titled, ironically, “6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers”. The author offers the perceptive view that, “Every leader's temptation is to deal with what's directly in front of them, because it always seems more urgent and concrete.”

“It's hard to be a strategic leader if you don't know what strategic leaders are supposed to do”, Schoemaker observes.  “After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what's required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:”

Anticipate:  Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals.  To anticipate well, a leader must look for game-changing information, search beyond the current boundaries of your business and build wide external networks to aid in better external scanning.

Think Critically”  “Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herd like belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything.

Interpret:  Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint.

Decide:  Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position.

Align:  Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. 

Learn:  As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.  You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure--especially failure--are valuable sources of organizational learning. 

Schoemaker concludes with a comment, “Obviously, this is a daunting list of tasks, and frankly, no one is born a black belt in all these different skills. But they can be taught and whatever gaps exist in your skill set can be filled in.”

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