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Strategic Thinking is for Everyone

Article Written By Jeff Levy
Nearly all of the popular books, articles, and workshops focus on developing strategy and plans at the senior level. No question - organizations need high-level strategic thinking. It’s also important that everyone else in any organization knows how to think strategically, too.
Good leaders agree about the need to be proactive and forward thinking. So doesn’t it make sense for all members at all levels to think about the future in e ways, especially in their individual areas of responsibility? The questions leaders must ask: how can team leaders, project managers, sales representatives, engineers, accountants and all others start thinking strategically? How can this be done in a practical sense?
In our 21stCentury world, we’ve become accustomed to efficiencies brought about by rapidly developing technology and our society demands speed, potentially at the expense of patience. Leaders today find themselves besieged with incredible pressures to deliver instant answers and immediate results. The pace and urgency of daily demands drains us of patience and makes dealing with non-pressing matters difficult: taking any time to see more than a few steps ahead becomes unlikely. So it doesn’t happen.
President Eisenhower once said “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In other words, take the time to discuss what matters most, where to focus and where to sharply focus. Rather than just set out to tackle a project, first discuss what results must be achieved. And rather than just charging off to get things done, talk about what options exist to make it all happen – and what is the best option for us at this time. Being strategic means being deliberate, not haphazard.
Virtually everyone in our workplaces has the capacity to think more broadly and beyond the immediate. Unfortunately, most employees are rarely asked, or at best, just superficially. Leaders need to ask engaging questions about specific business and organizational issues, and provide time and space to listen and discuss. Good leadership today is less about having the answers, and more about asking the right questions.
Without leadership to create a credible and safe time and space to encourage asking the right questions, it won’t happen. This requires leaders to stand firm and not let the ever-powerful force of the immediate take over. It’s not unlikely for a leader to get push-back: “Do you really want us to sit around and talk for an hour about the future? Shouldn’t we be answering these ringing phones, processing this pile of orders and shipping the products so we can invoice our customers?” Be careful. This is trap.
To create a true high-performance culture, leaders must embrace a “both/and” philosophy - not either/or. We must think consciously and deliberately about the future AND focus on the daily business demands.
Thomas Edison said, “There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.” Thinking, real thinking, is hard work! Companies needn’t close down to make time for strategic discussions. When people are interested, involved and know their opinions matter, it’s amazing how time suddenly becomes available.
Unless leaders resist the current do, do, do pattern and insist on developing people’s thinking capacity more fully, growth stalls and becoming competitively positioned for the future takes second fiddle.
 

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