Amity Institute Of Training & Development

What contributes to the ability to Think Strategically? Read Time: 7 mins

Life is nothing but an experience. The quality of this experience called life depends on the kind of decisions we make – both short term and long term. Short term decisions take care of our day to day working both at the personal and professional level. Wherein, long term decisions define our lives overall. Decisions that we take are based on what we “value” in life, which is again determined by what “purpose” we have for our life. The undercurrent to any decision is the ability to think and line or focus of thinking depends on what mindset we have. Its rightly said "Life is a sum of all our choices" (Albert Camus).

Life as well as a business is both long-term races. They require to fully commit to the present while seeing through years ahead to define and achieve the best of the future. They require to embrace today while deciding on objectives, understanding the options, creating possible alternative scenarios and situations and determining the direction to be followed. They require strategic thinking. Defined as the process that determines the way people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others, strategic thinking is the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. According to Henry Mintzberg, the management guru, “Many practitioners and theorists have wrongly assumed that strategic planning, strategic thinking, and strategy making are all synonymous, at least in best practice.” According to Ellen F. Goldman who is a visiting assistant professor of human and organizational learning in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, “Strategic thinking is a distinctive management activity whose purpose is to discover novel, imaginative strategies which can rewrite the rules of the competitive game; and to envision potential futures significantly different from the present.”

Developing a strategic approach is not always easy as it is as much a mindset as a set of techniques. However, it does result in the main difference between an average and an exceptional achiever. Success and achievement cannot just be left to hazard. In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 97% of the 10,000 senior executives asked chose strategy as the most critical leadership behaviour to their organizations’ future success. Strategic thinkers can imagine the big picture, identify the possible impact of their decisions and project the way to get there.

I sometimes contemplate on what contributes to the ability to think strategically. Especially people who are the decision-makers, whose decisions impact their lives and many others directly and indirectly. Let us explore the traits, skills or habits which contributes to the ability to think strategically.

#1: Being attuned to various dimensions of the world: One of the special characteristics that make strategic leaders stand out from the crowd is their sweeping view of the world in which they operate. They have a broad view and interpret the road signs and indicators they see, using the insight they gain to actively shape the future. They seem to recognize that being attuned to the various forces working for or against them reveals valuable information about the strategic opportunities they are pursuing and the obstacles they may face. In comparison, leaders who are less attentive to the world around them or consumed by their daily demands are more susceptible to being caught off guard by unwelcome surprises, and they often miss windows of opportunity that open.

#2: The ability to be attached and detached at the same time: In my experience, the biggest asset of any strategic thinker is your ability to be attached and detached at the same time. Attached to the focus on the future and detached with the present state that you are in. This helps you to see present objectively and discern the blinders that they might have while thinking strategically. This helps in cultivating the ability to step back and reflect and look at yourself and the entire situation and at the same time visualise the future in the third person. Being able to step back and view your world from farther off gives you a strategic advantage because you can see what you need to change in response to the hazards that are lurking, as well as the rich opportunities that are available for capture. Think of this characteristic of strategic leadership as “mental radar” that sweeps continuously across the spectrum of your world. “Your world” might include your team, functional areas, the organization, your industry, the market, the technology you use, and so on. Good strategic leaders can spot and interpret the cues from this continuous stream of intelligence. Unfortunately, when we are not in tune with these signals, we may miss pieces of information that can have a significant impact on our careers or lives. Nobody wants to risk overlooking something crucial. As such, leaders must consistently and intentionally pay attention to their surroundings as they dig for insights and seek to understand the forces influencing the future.

#3: Ability to think deeply: I sometimes do not understand as to why people just want to rush and act for the sake of action? Why do not people think through and then act as that would be better than doing a half thought through work again and again and thinking that one is improving with every round of rework? I find this quite funny! You can ask me why. The reason is quite simple. The amount of effort and time one has put in to rework again and again is much more than one could invest in the first place to think through. But the action these days is more famous than thinking. If you are thinking … you are just too slow! Unfortunately, in our school curriculum these days, we do not teach kids to think “deeply”. But if you want to think strategically, the ability to think deeply makes it a smooth process. It helps you to stay with the thought for a long time and think the same through different dimensions. It is just like “chewing the cud” and extracting the most of it. and that helps one to come up with some of the most profound insights about the thought.

#4: Assertiveness: "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude" (Zig Ziglar). After a comprehensive evaluation, they chose the way to go and walk firmly into it without vacillation. They may doubt but they do not let the doubts to fog the vision. They communicate effectively what they want and need by using clear orders while simultaneously respecting the thoughts and wishes of others. They can react appropriately under pressure and reduce anxiety by sticking to their decision and avoiding excessive questioning. Through high levels of confidence and self-esteem, they constructively receive both compliments and critics. They defend their points of view without harming others and manage to convince without force or hostility.

#5: Emotional Balance: Strategic thinkers can balance their emotions in a way that always favours the achievement of the ultimate goals. They are aware of their emotions, they can name them when they arrive, they do not react to them as an important element of accepting them and just when they are over the control of them, they decide. Whether they received positive or negative feedback, they can deal with it, understand, and respond in a way that protects and progresses toward their desired outcome. They are kind, compassionate and optimistic whenever facing their language response. Strategic thinkers are tremendously creative, but they can balance this creativity with pragmatism through a sense of realism and honesty about actuality.

#6: Patience: "The two most powerful warriors are patience and time" (Leo Tolstoy). Strategic thinkers do not ignore that achievement is a long-term ride. Milestones have all a concrete time and moment. And success is the result of a process of strategically planned work and efforts. Strategic thinkers can be patient. They do not rush conclusions. They do not bet it all at once. They invest their energies in a way that is sustainable and led by a long-term vision. They would diligently work bit by bit till their vision is reality. They have tremendous resilience. Getting up, dusting themselves and be back on track till the vision is not achieved. This can be summed taking inspiration from shloka from Kathaupnishad which Swami Vivekananda rephrased as, “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached!”

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By: Vaani Gandha


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