Leaders push the limits.
Leaders push the limits. At least we’re supposed to. We’re supposed to drive the business from A to B, move people from groups to teams, and develop ourselves from leading by default to leading by design. In a nutshell, our job as leaders is to recognize and overcome stasis when we must – in our organizations, our teams, and in ourselves. We must go to the edge and push farther, over and over again, transforming the status quo so that our teams and our organizations can achieve success. To push the limits we need to be able to think carefully and strategically.
Our challenge is that careful and strategic thinking is not something that comes naturally to many or most of us. For most of us, our thinking tends to be focused on the near term. We think about the tasks before us today or those that need to be completed in a week, a month, or perhaps a quarter. There is also the reality that, without discipline our thinking and decision-making is reactive and influenced by our capacity (or lack thereof) to feel fully, to understand and manage our emotions. Another factor in our inability to think strategically is the fact that as we age we lose our sense of curiosity. We become knowers instead of learners.
These tendencies, a short-term focus, emotional reactivity, and a lack of curiosity combine to thwart our desire to think and act carefully and strategically. The implication is that we experience a gap between strategic thinking and strategic doing (intelligent action) and we develop a pattern of thinking and doing that is counterproductive to driving successful change. We race from A to B downloading old solutions onto current situations. We develop the “ready, fire, aim” mindset and our thinking and doing become more and more operational or tactical as we do what is most expedient in the near term and soothes the heightened emotional state we are in due to our reactivity. A serious consequence of this pattern is that we become static, fixed in time and space. The longer this pattern goes on the wider the gap between strategic thinking (when it occurs) and strategic action can become. So if it is not natural for us, how do we develop our capacity to think and act more strategically?
Careful and Strategic Thinking
Careful, strategic thinking requires a shift in mind set, development of a strategic thinking skill set. When we decide to think and act strategically we are choosing to transform the status quo, to intentionally push the limits and disrupt the system.
Leaders who excel at careful, strategic thinking do six things well:
- They are present. They respond rather than react. They develop the emotional intelligence to give themselves time to engage in critical thinking.
- They are observant. They see trends and indentify opportunities to work across boundaries to create value. They look for industry and business information that could change the game. They look to expand their networks to see farther and wider than they could on their own.
- They are creative. They reframe situations and problems. They look to discover the problems under the problems. They look for the patterns under events.
- They are innovative. They encourage a learner mindset. They question assumptions. They consider multiple scenarios and invite multiple perspectives when exploring possible courses of action.
- They are strategic. They set goals and align people around clearly defined, achievable actions that push the limits and disrupt the status quo.
- They are purposeful. They develop plans. They have a preference for action. They decide, plan, and execute.
The feedback from leaders who work to develop this strategic thinking mindset and skill set has been consistent. Focusing on developing these skills helps leaders grow their capacity to feel “fully”; they become more proactive and less reactive. They become more intentionally curious. They begin to lead in a way that positively pushes the limits.
Push farther. Repeat.
If we are going to lead successfully, we have to begin thinking more carefully and strategically. This will require us to change ourselves. Change begins when we decide to develop ourselves. Change occurs when we discipline ourselves to practice a new way every day. The first step to more careful, strategic thinking and doing is to become more intentional and strategic regarding our own development as leaders. Leadership development is a daily practice and a life-long journey. Once on the path, it becomes a matter of daily review and revision. In this regard our strategy for our own development is the same as our strategy for our business and our people; it’s dynamic and evolving. Go to the edge. Push farther. Repeat.