Strategic thinking often gets wrapped in a mystique that it's something only top-level executives or specialised consultants can do. Have you been elevated to a
leadership role where strategic thinking and decision-making are vital, but you’ve
lacked the necessary guidance or development to excel in these areas? Or do you
want to help high-potential employees transition from tactical to strategic?
Let’s start by debunking some common myths that might be getting in the way of you developing this skill.
Exclusive to top-level executives: One common misconception is that strategic thinking is only relevant to CEOs or senior leaders. In reality, it's a skill applicable at all levels of an organisation.
Requires a crystal ball: Strategic thinking isn't about predicting the future with absolute certainty. It's more about anticipating potential scenarios and preparing to adapt to different outcomes.
It's all about planning: While planning is a key part, it's not the entirety of it. Strategic thinking involves dynamic decision-making, agility in response to change, and continuous reassessment of goals.
Involves complex theories: While some strategic models exist, strategic thinking itself doesn't require an understanding of intricate theories or inaccessible methodologies. It's about critical analysis, creativity, and considering multiple perspectives.
It's a solitary activity: Strategic thinking doesn't happen in isolation. Collaborative thinking and diverse viewpoints often contribute to more robust strategic outcomes.
Rich Horwath, founder of the Strategic Thinking Institute, defines strategic thinking as “the ability to generate new insights on a regular basis to achieve an advantage.” It’s about spotting trends and opportunities, connecting up the dots and seeing the bigger picture. You can then start to challenge assumptions and ask ‘so what’ questions like, ‘What does that mean to me? To my team?’; enabling you to weigh up different options and make decisions that align with long-term objectives.
John Coleman, former McKinsey consultant, has developed a matrix to help leaders become more strategic, excelling in core operations while staying adaptable to adjust strategies in line with market trends. He considers two traits: agility and consistency.
Balancing agility and consistency is crucial for strategic thinking. Agility allows for adaptability in a rapidly changing environment, enabling quick responses to new
challenges and opportunities. Consistency, on the other hand, provides stability and a framework for decision-making, ensuring that actions align with long-term
Strategic thinking involves navigating this balance effectively. Too much emphasis on consistency might lead to rigidity, making it difficult to pivot when necessary.
Conversely, excessive agility without consistency can result in a lack of direction and constant shifts that prevent progress toward established goals.
Successful strategic thinkers find a middle ground by:
1. Establishing guiding principles: These principles provide a consistent
foundation for decision-making while allowing flexibility in implementation.
2. Regularly reassessing strategies: Continuously evaluating strategies and
adjusting them based on changing circumstances maintains agility while ensuring alignment with overarching goals.
3. Encouraging a culture of innovation: Fostering an environment that
encourages experimentation and learning from both successes and failures
allows for agility while aiming for consistent growth.
By balancing agility and consistency, strategic thinkers can respond effectively to
changing conditions while staying aligned with the organisation's vision and
If you’re not sure how to get started, here are a few coaching questions to explore:
How clear are you about the most critical objectives for your team or organisation in the next 6-12 months?
How easily are you getting side-tracked by obstacles or distractions at the moment?
What needs to change?