As a leadership consultant and coach, one of the biggest barriers I see for emerging leaders is their lack of time for strategic thinking. Whether your workplace is the corporation, the church, university or a community agency, leaders must see the big picture of the organization or institution, think strategically about the interconnecting parts of the organization and understand the context or community which the organization serves.
Too often I see women in particular who aspire to be leaders running from meeting to meeting, churning out work in a hyper-busy mode. In one of my client organizations, senior male leaders in the organization labeled these women as real “grinders” because they could “grind” out so much work–quality work at that! It sounds like a compliment, but one executive woman noted that rarely did these executive men see the “grinders” as leadership material. These hard-working women were not “strategic enough in their thinking.”
Not so long ago, that was me. I was a senior leader in a large organization and I literally ran up and down the steps and down the hallway from meeting to meeting. My team members could hear me coming. They knew my walk, heels rapidly clicking on the tile. Unfortunately, what I was modeling was a lot of doing—busyness. I had to shift to a more strategic mode to be able to think and make decisions about the long-term issues facing the department and organization.
If this is you, know that this fast-paced mode will prevent you from establishing your leadership identity. It will prevent you from taking time to think strategically about the issues facing projects and developing the fixes needed for your programs. Our fast pace work world makes us prone to take shortcuts, look for quick fixes or consider the most readily available data. We are just too busy to dig deeper!
Ironically, our brains may be wired or predisposed to taking shortcuts or quick fixes, as well. Of the 150 or so cognitive biases that neuroscientists have identified, one in particular makes us prone to looking for quick fixes. It’s called the expedience bias
To counteract the effect of the expedience bias on your work, you’ve got to make time for strategic thinking. Depending on your context, it may be time for reflective thinking. You have got to take time to think about your thinking and think about your leadership. Now as a business owner, I have to think strategically about my business, clients and colleagues. To be successful, I had to develop the rhythms that allow me to reflect, plan, pray, and think strategically.
Here’s a strategy for you to start making time for strategic thinking.
Schedule 30 minutes a day. If you can schedule more on certain days do so. Block off that time in your calendar. Honor this appointment with yourself as much as you would a meeting for a manager, client or coworker. “Me time,” even in a professional setting, is not a selfish act but a disciplined act.
During this time:
- Focus on a specific deliverable or outcome. Question your initial assumptions about this deliverable. Determine if you need more relevant information.
- If you are an individual contributor, find a colleague with whom you can collaborate, ask questions or review information on this project. As a team leader use this time to prepare for gaining your team’s input and ideas.
- Write out how this deliverable connects to the mission, vision and core objectives of your team, department or organization.
- Determine how the deliverable affects your team, organization, clients and/or customers.
- Detail or outline your talk points to be able to strategically communicate the significance of your deliverable to the organization. Work on the details with your team. Stay out of the “weeds” with senior leaders.
In our fast-paced world of work, you may think busyness is the most productive mode for you. If you want to lead, you’ve got to learn to think strategically. The most important step to thinking strategically is making time to think strategically.
Slow down. Make an appointment with yourself! The seeds you sow during strategic thinking time will bear fruit for you and your organization.