Strategic thinking is a valuable leadership tool for any organization. It combines skills such as the ability to scan the environment, identify risks and opportunities, and determine priorities to create competitive advantages for your business.

In 2013, Management Research Group (MRG) completed a large scale global study on leadership effectiveness and found that a “strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied.”

Strategic thinkers “help ensure that an organization is fully prepared

for a difficult-to-predict future. Second, their big-picture perspective

helps a firm avoid major problems and conflicts by connecting the dots

and seeing the interrelationships between business elements.

Third, their external focus keeps everyone aware of emerging

trends in the economy and the industry. And fourth,

they have a global perspective.” – John Sullivan

Author John Sullivan, provides 6 ways to screen job candidates for strategic thinking in his Harvard Business Review blog. These techniques include having the interviewer:

  • Give candidates a real problem to solve
  • Ask candidates to review a flawed strategic plan and identify potential problems
  • Ask specific interview questions that can help determine whether the candidate has strategic thinking skills
  • Look for strategic phrases within the answers to your interview questions
  • As questions that reveal how much they value strategic thinking
  • Evaluate the questions the candidate asks during an interview

Strategic thinking skills can also be developed within your organization through time and effort. Robert Kabacoff from MRG provides these tips:

  • Encourage managers to set a regular time aside for strategic planning (alone and in meeting with others). A strategic approach takes time. Make it a regular part of their job.
  • Provide information to your leaders on the market, the industry, customers, competitors and new technologies that influence your business. One of the key prerequisites of strategic leadership is having relevant and broad business information that helps leaders elevate their thinking beyond the day-to-day.
  • Keep people informed on what is happening internally. Effective strategy requires information shared across boundaries; cross-functional teams can work on strategic organizational issues, and the results of their thinking and efforts should be published and shared throughout the organization.
  • Connect managers with a mentor. One of the most effective ways to develop your strategic skills is to be mentored by someone who is highly strategic. The ideal mentor is someone who is widely known for his/her ability to keep people focused on strategic objectives and the impact of their actions.
  • Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, mission, and goal statement throughout the organization. Individuals and groups need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to stay focused and incorporate it into their own plans and strategies.
  • Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting; wherever possible, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management. For example, managers are rewarded for being able to quickly generate several solutions to a given problem and identifying the solution with the greatest long-term benefit for the organization.
  • 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 a manager suggests course of action, their boss can 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 leaders.

What are you doing to promote strategic thinking in your organization?