Strategic thinking for Leaders

Most of us have heard the term working ‘ON’ the business.  Most of us however simply work ‘IN’ it.  Even owners and leaders spend either all their time or the vast majority of it doing the ‘day job’.

This is fine of course, for most of the time.  But many leaders find themselves focusing entirely on the day to day, on the tactical, and on the current issues.  They often spend too much time ‘doing the doing’, and not enough time leading and enabling the organisation to flourish for the long term.

The term working ‘on’ the business simply means spending some time ‘stepping back’, making sure you can see the wood for the trees, and asking yourself some key questions.

It involves thinking in a different way; it often needs collaboration between different individuals and teams, and it will probably involve ‘looking into the future’.

It will require research and building a new understanding, setting goals and destinations, and problem-solving.

It may involve working on projects that cost money and don’t deliver anything in the short or even medium term, and that may even affect short-term profits.

In great businesses, strategic thinking is not done instead of the day job, its done as well as…

So why don’t more people practise strategic thinking?

There are of course many great businesses that have got it right.  Their leaders balance their focus on the day to day, with sufficient and regular periods of strategic thinking and action.

They assess where the business is now and where it is or could be going, and implement actions that are in part about the longer term.

Most businesses though, and especially SMEs, do not think or act sufficiently strategically.

Many of these businesses are essentially successful and profitable, so what’s the problem?

Well in the short term, maybe nothing.  But we all know how quickly the world is changing and in a nutshell, all sustainably successful business have to move with the times.

There are just too many examples of businesses losing their market position, stalling, getting into debt or worst still, ceasing trading.  Many of these were household names, once titans in their industry, successful and profitable.

Whilst there are many reasons for this, many of them can be traced back to a lack of research, understanding, reflection, vision, bravery and much more, and simply too much ‘head down’ and focus on the here and now to see what may be coming down the track.

Equally, there are many businesses that are successful, that could be much more so if the leaders had spent sufficient time thinking and acting more strategically.

Why is there a lack of strategic thinking?

This boils down to a handful of reasons.  It could be that the leaders of the business have just not realised that this is what is needed, as they are in the short term ‘successful’.

Or it could be that they are just too comfortable and successful enough, so they don’t recognise there may be a future issue.

For many, it will be a time problem or a perceived time issue.  Leaders and owners who are doing too much doing are probably creating in part the problem for themselves.  A lack of delegation, a lack of internal discipline and structure often means they do too much firefighting.

However, the biggest gap we find is a lack of confidence and capability; essentially “HOW’ do we think and act more strategically?

Whilst there are some people who are natural strategic and bigger picture thinkers, and there are many people who are detailed and ‘here and now’ thinkers, most people can be ‘taught’ to think and act more strategically.