Leading a company isn’t easy. On the one hand, a leader needs to keep a pulse on the heartbeat of the organization today while, on the other hand, maintaining a vision for tomorrow. Essentially, he or she has to be in two different places mentally. I don’t know about you, but it’s challenging enough for me just to be in one place (that’s a joke).
To deliver at the leading edge, you must think at the leading edge, and that means thinking outside your comfort zone. Nobody gets any better thinking the same way they always have, and insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
As mentioned in a previous column, bridging the gap from executor to strategist can be a quantum leap (mentally) for some people. Many will fall short — hitting every branch on the way down.
We all know technology-inclined people who were great programmers but, once they were promoted into a more strategic role, relied too much on what earned them that promotion. In other words, their subject-matter expertise coupled with a lack of guidance in their transition made them fall prey to what they already know, so they become micro-managers — the bane of every employee’s existence.
While strategic thinking isn’t something that can be honed overnight, there are ways to broaden the aperture to see the whole forest rather than just a few trees. Here are four:
1. Offer a drop box for ideas.
Create a space where people can express suggestions, recommendations and observations to be shared with the group. Pixar called its version of this the Brain Trust — a place where team members collaborated without emotion, pooling together disparate ideas and colliding them to create the whacky creatures that appear in its movies.
Alex Bogusky of Made Movement said it best, “Ideas are a natural outcome of an engaged mind. If your team isn’t having ideas, it’s a sign that something else is wrong.”
2. Think one level higher.
For every individual or team-level decision, consider the ramifications for the organization. How does the decision to cut salaries impact not only employees, but the trust they have of the company? Its brand? Its culture? There are always higher level considerations, internal and external, to account for.
3. Dig deeper.
Ask powerful questions that unearth greater insight. Don’t settle for a surface-level explanation such as, “We’ve always done it this way.” In pushing for more detailed answers, be sure to frame your inquiry as wanting a greater understanding of the rationale behind the thinking rather than an explanation of it.
Nobody likes the feeling of judgment found in explaining themselves, so position your inquiry as a question rather than a command, such as, “Can you help me understand the thinking behind this?” rather than simply asking, “Why are we doing this?”
Of course, you’ll probably be thinking to yourself, “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe this guy works here,” but save that for your inner monologue.
4. Find a role model.
You can always enlist the support of a mentor or coach to help broaden your strategic thinking. Mentors offer guidance according to their subject-matter expertise. Coaches extract personal insights from within so the person reaches that awareness him or herself. Either way, to broaden your thinking you need somebody to incite a new perspective to consider — that’s what learning entails.
The more you grow your thinking, the more you grow. Thoughts induce feelings, feelings lead to decisions and decisions spur behavior.