Updated: Aug 18, 2021
“If strategy is so important, why don’t we make time for it?” asks Harvard Business Review in this article.
The article cites a survey in which a full 97% of leaders surveyed said that strategic thinking was the single most important leadership behavior for organizational success.
So then, as the headline asks, why AREN’T leaders making strategic thinking a priority?
The answer is often found in company culture.
“Hustle cultures” incentivize output almost exclusively and can be found in every industry.
These cultures are based around the idea of “Work harder, produce more.” Incentives like bonuses, commissions, and of course opportunities for promotions are often directly related to that output.
With production and output so heavily incentivized it is no surprise that thinking about strategy is viewed as an opportunity cost.
When this culture takes hold “We don’t have time!” becomes a vicious cycle which makes change even more difficult. If you’ve experienced this type of culture, you know that change efforts tend to wither on the vine rather quickly.
If you really want to stand out and get ahead, invest in making strategic thinking a priority.
How to Make Strategic Thinking a Priority
Schedule It. Set a specific day and time, and put it into your calendar. If you leave it to chance or “when you feel like it” you’ll always find a reason to procrastinate.
What gets measured gets managed. Put it into your schedule and do not allow other tasks to encroach on that time.
Create Accountability. Accountability is the best way to fight the temptation to fall back into that perspective of pure output. Build strategic thinking into the systems and processes of your business.
For example, weekly senior staff meetings are an excellent check point event, when teams can discuss various projects, strategic initiatives, and perspectives.
Utilize a Coach or Mentor. If you don’t think that you have a source of accountability internally, then create one externally.
A significant part of coaching is strategic thinking. Clients often find inspiration during sessions for deeper strategic thinking and better action plans.
Learn from the Experts. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy is one of the best books to help leaders create simple strategic frameworks. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but you do need a framework.
In addition to Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, the Covey Time Management Matrix is one of the simplest tools to help you organize and prioritize more effectively so that you can eliminate the “we don’t have time!” refrain.
The “hustle culture” prioritizes Quadrants 1 and 3. Neither are desirable places to spend your time.
In Quadrant 1, you are either racing to meet a deadline or dealing with a crisis. If you’re spending a lot of time in Quadrant 1, there are larger problems at play.
In Quadrant 3, you’re engaging in work that could be delegated, outsourced, or otherwise taken off of your schedule. This is where many people get caught in the trap of wanting to appear as though they are being productive. In reality, working in Quadrant 3 means you're not using your time and other resources as efficiently as possible.
Quadrant 4 is purely diversion.
That leaves Quadrant 2, which is where high-impact leaders spend the majority of their time. In Quadrant 2, you can identify and grasp opportunities. You can spot potential obstacles and issues and create strategies to avoid or overcome them.
One of my favorite quotes bottom lines this very well. “What got you here, won’t necessarily get you where you want to go next.”
If you want to level up your business or your career, you have to start doing the things that those businesses and those people do. You cannot stay where you are and also move forward.
It is either / or.
The Benefits of Strategic Leadership
Resource Efficiency. Great leaders get the most out of the resources at their disposal. The only way to do this is to regularly evaluate whether the systems and processes used by the business are still the best ones to produce the desired outcomes.
Mitigate or Eliminate Risk. If you can see an issue or obstacle coming in advance, you can prepare for it. You might not be able to avoid it entirely, but at least it won’t totally derail your progress.
Reduce Anxiety. When you’re not blindsided by issues, leadership gets a little bit easier.
Spot & Grasp Opportunity. When there aren’t crises to deal with or obstacles on the horizon, strategic thinkers are looking for and taking opportunities that their competitors are too busy (or too distracted) to spot.
Agility. Perhaps the most desirable corporate trait, after retained earnings of course. But agility is only possible when you are evaluating the landscape ahead. Strategic thinking helps you anticipate changing industry trends and out maneuver your competition.
Remember, what got you here won't necessarily get you there. Work to make strategic thinking a part of your regular routine. Your business will thank you.
About the Author:
Matt Beckmann is the Founder & Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. In addition to experience as a former Chief of Staff to the Missouri Auditor and as a Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, he has advanced training and certifications in law, business, coaching, athletics, and leadership. His blog content, inspired by his deep passion for unlocking his reader's best potential, consistently equips business owners and individuals with the knowledge and resources to overcome obstacles that may be hindering growth.
Ascent Consultants provides business and strategy consulting, executive and leadership coaching, and leadership assessments. By converting client growth goals into an actionable "game plan," we help companies and individuals unlock their full potential.