developing strategic thinkers throughout your organization
What leadership skill is the most important to develop in employees?
When asked to select the leadership behavior most critical to their organizations’ future success, executives chose strategic thinking 97% of the time, according to a large scale global research study by the Management Research Group, and strategic thinkers have been found to be among the most highly effective leaders.
Executives rated a strategic approach to leadership as ten times more important to the perception of effectiveness over other attributes including innovation, persuasion, communication or results orientation.
Strategic thinkers take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what needs to be accomplished over time and what has to happen now to get there. It also means thinking systemically – identifying the impact of decisions on all areas of the organization, as well as suppliers and customers.
The high priority senior leaders place on strategic thinking reinforces the importance of building this mindset into professional development programs. Here are several ways you can foster more strategic thinking with your team:
Be Generous with Information
Encourage employees to set aside time to think strategically and provide information on your market, industry, customers, competitors, and emerging technologies. One of the key prerequisites of strategic leadership is having relevant and broad business information that helps employees elevate their thinking beyond the day-to-day, and then sharing the results of their thinking and efforts throughout the organization.
Develop a Mentor Program
One of the most effective ways to develop strategic skills is to be mentored by someone who is highly strategic. The ideal mentor is someone who is widely known for their ability to keep people focused on strategic objectives and the impact of their actions.
Create a Philosophy
Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, a mission statement, and achievable goals throughout the company. Employees need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to stay focused and incorporate the strategy into their own plans and objectives.
Reward Thinking, not Reaction
Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting. Wherever possible, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management. Reward your employees for being able to quickly generate several solutions to a given problem and identifying the solution with the greatest long-term benefit to the organization.
Ask Better Questions
Promote a future perspective for employees by incorporating it into training and development programs; teach people what strategic thinking is and encourage them to ask “why” and “when” questions. When they suggest a course of action, ask them to consider what underlying strategic goal this action serves, and what the impact will be on internal and external stakeholders. Consistently asking these two questions whenever action is considered will go a long way towards developing strategic thinkers.
Employees who scored well on these skills were more likely to be seen as effective, independent of any of their other behaviors. They were also four times more likely to be seen as individuals with significant future potential within their organizations.