Advertising
Advertising

Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

Advertising

Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

Advertising

Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

Advertising

Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Advertising

Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

More on Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It) How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress social intelligence What Is Social Intelligence (And How to Increase Yours) How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

Trending in Brain

1 What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It) 2 How to Unleash the 4 Types of Creativity In You 3 What Are Creative Problem Solving Skills (And How To Improve Yours) 4 How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways 5 9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on October 22, 2020

What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

Have you ever taken so long trying to solve a problem that you just ended up going around in circles? How about trying to make a major decision and just freezing up when the time to decide came?

You might have found yourself gathering too much information, hoping it will help you make the best decision—even if it takes you too long to do so. This probably led to many missed opportunities, especially in situations where you needed to act on time.

Nobody wants to make the wrong decision. However, delayed decision making can have a hugely negative impact on all aspects of your life—from your personal relationships to your career. Delaying important decisions can be the worst decision of all.

At one point or another, people get stuck at a decision impasse they can’t seem to overcome. This is due to a mental blindspot called information bias, informally known as analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis and Stalled Decisions

Information bias, or analysis paralysis, is our tendency to seek more information than is needed to make decisions and take action.[1] It is one of many cognitive biases that cause us to make mistakes during the decision-making process.

A related cognitive bias is the status quo bias, which is our tendency to prefer that things stay the same and fear any changes.[2] Together with analysis paralysis, these two dangerous judgment errors pose a threat to our successful navigation through our rapidly-shifting world.

Consider what happened to Lily, a consulting client of mine who’s a mid-level manager in the UX department of a large tech company. Lily had been there for 5 years and was thinking about switching to a startup after a couple tried to recruit her.

Advertising

However, she had been taking a lot of time making a decision. In fact, before she contacted me, she had already gathered information and talked to a lot of people for 7 months. Realistically, more information won’t sway her decision, but she kept trying to gather more information.

And then, there was the technology company that came to me after their growth started to decline. The company had initially experienced rapid growth with a couple of innovative products. However, its growth started to decrease—unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Essentially, the company’s growth followed the typical S-curve growth model, which starts as a slow and effortful start-up stage. This is followed by a rapid growth stage, then a slowdown in growth, often following market saturation or competitive pressure or other factors. This is the point where the company’s existing products reach maturity.

However, even before a slowdown hits, forward-thinking companies would innovate and change things up proactively. This is so they could have new products ready to go that would maintain rapid growth.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with this particular tech company. Not only did they not address the potential decline but once the company’s growth stalled, the leaders dug their heels in and stayed the course. They kept on analyzing the market to find the cause of the problem.

Worse, a couple of executives in the company proposed launching new products, but most of the leadership was cautious. They kept on asking for guarantees that the products would be a success, demanding more information even when additional information wasn’t relevant.

Both Lily and the tech company remained paralyzed by too much information when they should already have taken action. While this situation isn’t unexpected, it is totally avoidable.

Advertising

As I told both parties when they consulted me, all they needed to do was to face analysis paralysis head-on and make a decision. But they had to follow the best decision-making process available first, didn’t they?

8-Step Decision-Making Process to Avoid Analysis Paralysis

I told Lily and the leaders at the tech company that we should never go with our gut if we want to avoid disasters in our personal and professional lives.[3] Instead, I advised them, as I advise you now, to follow data-driven, research-based approaches, such as the one I’ll outline below.

From hiring a new employee, launching a new product, selecting a Zoom guest speaker for your annual video conference to deciding whether to apply for a higher-level position within your company, the following steps will help you fight analysis paralysis and make the best decisions possible.

1. Identify the Need to Launch a Decision-Making Process

This is particularly important when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change or decision to be made. Such recognition is also applicable when your natural intuitions are keeping you from acknowledging the need for a tough decision.

Remember that the best decision-makers take the initiative to recognize the need for decisions before they become an emergency. They also don’t let gut reactions cloud their decision-making capacity.

2. Gather Relevant Information From a Wide Variety of Informed Perspectives

Listen especially to opinions you disagree with. Contradicting perspectives empower you to distance yourself from the comfortable reliance on your gut instincts, which can sometimes be harmful to decision-making. Opposing ideas also help you recognize any potential bias blind spots, and this allows you to come up with solutions that you may not have otherwise.

3. Paint a Clear Vision of Your Desired Outcome

Using the data gleaned from step 2, decide which goals you want to reach. Paint a clear vision of the desired outcome of your decision-making process. You should also recognize that what seems to be a one-time decision may turn out to be a symptom of an underlying issue with current processes and practices. Make addressing these root problems part of the outcome you want to achieve.

Advertising

4. Make a Decision-Making Process Criteria

Make a decision-making process criteria to weigh the various options of how you’d like to get to your desired outcome. As much as possible, develop these criteria before you start to consider choices. Our intuitions bias our decision-making criteria to encourage certain outcomes that fit our instincts. As a result, you get overall worse decisions if you don’t develop criteria before starting to look at options.

5. Generate Several Viable Options

We tend to fall into the trap of generating insufficient options to make the best decisions, and this can lead to analysis paralysis. To prevent this, you should generate many more options than you usually would. Generate several viable options that can help you achieve your decision-making process goals. Go for 5 attractive options as the minimum.

Keep in mind that this is a brainstorming step, so don’t judge options no matter how far fetched they might seem. In my consulting and coaching experience, the optimal choice often involves elements drawn from out-of-the-box options.

6. Weigh These Options and Pick the Best One

When weighing your options, beware of going with your initial preferences. Try to see your preferred choice in a harsh light. Also, do your best to separate each option from the person who proposed it. This minimizes the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision itself.

7. Implement the Option You Chose

For implementing the decision, you need to minimize risks and maximize rewards, since your goal is to get a decision outcome that’s as good as possible.

First, imagine that the decision completely failed. Then, brainstorm about all the problems that led to this failure. Next, consider how you might solve these problems, and integrate the solutions into your implementation plan.

Next, imagine that the decision absolutely succeeded. Brainstorm all the reasons for success and consider how you can bring these reasons into life. Then, integrate what you learned into implementing the decisions.

Advertising

Finally, develop clear metrics of success that you can measure throughout the implementation process. This will enable you to check if you’re meeting the goals you identified in step 3. It will also help guide your goal-setting process—something to keep in mind when you use this decision-making technique again in the future.

8. Set a Reminder to Use the Process for Future Decisions

Regularly check if it’s time to employ the decision-making process once again. As discussed in the first step, there may be times when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change, even though underlying issues might already be signaling that it’s time for a tough decision.

Setting a reminder—perhaps a visual one such as a note on your desk, or even just a scheduled alert on your phone—will ensure that you can catch decision-making cues before they’re due.

While Lily and the tech company initially had to fight off a lot of discomforts when using the process, they were ultimately rewarded with sound decisions they were immensely satisfied with.

This battle-tested method will do the same for you. It will certainly propel your decision-making and, at the same time, help you thwart analysis paralysis and avoid decision disasters.

Conclusion

Nobody wants to make the wrong decision, but you also don’t want to take too long and miss opportunities. By using a data-driven and research-based approach to decision making, you can nip analysis paralysis in the bud and make the best decisions.

More Tips to Overcome Analysis Paralysis

Featured photo credit: Muhmed El-Bank via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next