Attributes of Strategic Thinkers
Let’s imagine you’re sitting in your quarterly review. Your supervisor is going over your performance and providing you with useful feedback. You’re taking note of your supervisor’s suggestions. There’s one that sticks out to you: “Think more strategically.”
What does that mean? For most professionals, it means they aren’t thinking enough about the big picture. They’re so occupied with day-to-day tasks, that they don’t know how to broaden their perspective.
Making your thinking more strategic is a challenge: the pressures of work always seem to be pulling you back to the ‘here and now’, and surely there isn’t time in your day to reflect on the future and the bigger picture. And anyway, isn’t strategic thinking something that senior managers are supposed to do? Well, thinking strategically is something you can and should do wherever you are in the organization. Thinking strategically is something you do while you are doing everything else – it’s a habit not a chunk of time in your calendar. You do have to adjust your approach to work and be prepared to get out of your comfort zone a little – or a lot. To better understand how you can think more strategically, we’ve outlined eight attributes of strategic thinkers. Read on to learn more.
1. Strategic Thinkers Embrace the Future and New Possibilities
Are you paying attention to industry buzz, and anticipating new, potential trends? Are you looking at the figurative horizon, watching for new possibilities and opportunities?
Strategic thinkers are. They aren’t reacting or waiting to be told what to do. They are pitching new ideas, initiating new projects, and trying to figure out the next big thing. They approach what they need to do today as necessary for reaching a much larger, long-term goal. They are fundamentally forward-thinking. They are creating the future.
2. They Take Risks
Most people don’t like to operate outside of their comfort zone. However, it’s essential for any kind of personal or professional growth. This is where learning and gaining new knowledge occurs.
Instead of clinging to established logic, tried-and-true methods, and conventional wisdom, strategic thinkers take a leap of faith. They brainstorm new ideas. They stay open-minded. They aren’t averse to risk. They accept that risks can be scary, and they’re willing to walk through that fear. They are happy to fail, get back up, and forge ahead.
3. They’re Creative
Out-of-the-box ideas solve more problems than run-of-the-mill solutions. When it’s met with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, every organization needs a solution it hasn’t tried before.
Enter creative, strategic thinkers. No topic or idea is taboo for these broad-minded professionals. They pitch new solutions, even if those solutions seem outlandish. Creative people represent a treasure trove of strategic thinking. Ask them to offer up suggestions for problem-solving, and you’ll be listening to a bevy of unorthodox, but helpful, ideas.
4. They Don’t Accept the Status Quo
Strategic thinkers don’t care about what is an accepted practice. They’re interested in finding out which methods will work in their ever-changing environment. They’re willing to speak out against the status quo, and to do things in a completely new way.
5. They’re Voracious Learners
Everyone has someone in their workplace who just seems to be in the know. Whenever you speak to this coworker, they tell you about what’s going on in your organization and in your industry at large. They stay abreast of whatever is happening, and they enjoy learning new things. This curiosity and thirst for knowledge is a telltale sign of strategic thinking.
6. Strategic Thinkers are Willing to Adapt
Rigidity isn’t an effective long-term strategy for professional development. The longer you stick to your old ways of doing things, the more stuck you’ll become. To improve your strategic thinking, you’ll need to modify your approach. You’ll need to try things you’ve never done before. You’ll need to stay adaptable, adjusting how you handle projects before, during, and after they’re completed.
7. They Understand Delayed Gratification
One of a strategic thinker’s most important traits is their work ethic. Strategic thinkers are willing to put in a little extra work on Friday afternoon in order to set up the following work week. They’re willing to allocate resources to a project they’re managing, instead of trying to do it all themselves or micro-managing their team.
Strategic thinkers aren’t interested in instant gratification. They understand that it’s fleeting. Rather, they’re interested in achieving a major goal that requires careful planning, vigilance, and continued work. They play the long game, and being aware of what the overall outcome should be, allows them to make much better tactical and operational decisions now.
8. They Work Effectively, Instead of Just Being Busy
Busy work doesn’t lend itself to big-picture thinking. If you’re consumed with administrative work and daily tasks, then you’re missing an opportunity to expand your perspective.
Delegate work to others; clear out your schedule; start building a sense of mindfulness. Only when you’ve de-cluttered your workload and your mind, will you be able to think about long-term objectives.
Bonus Attribute: Work Simplification
Finding the time to think more strategically can often be more about finding the mental space needed. We often spend a lot of our day working much less efficiently than we could. Bringing a little simplification to our working practices can provide us with that mental space. Strategic thinking helps us know that we are focusing on the right things, and work simplification helps us work better.
How to Improve Your Strategic Thinking
The great news is, that as a member of the human race, you are already a strategic thinker – it’s how you navigate your life. The challenge is to take that natural ability, become more aware of it and apply it in your work environment. So don’t stress if you think you don’t have all eight of the attributes listed above. Everyone can develop their ability to think and act more strategically. The best way to kick start this kind of improvement is through ongoing learning.