Strategic thinking is a vital element of any leader’s responsibilities. Leaders can not afford to take a passive approach to navigating toward the future due to the risk of becoming ineffective and irrelevant.
Strategic thinking is a distinctive leadership responsibility that seeks to uncover new, imaginative, cutting-edge, and competitive strategies to maintain and increase effectiveness by envisioning a future significantly different than their current reality (Heracleous, 1998). It is not day-to-day management thinking, which is where many leaders can get bogged down in details and reactive decision-making, but it is longer-term thinking with a broader perspective and a focus on the high level key issues (Hanford, 1995). Strategic thinking uses intuition and creativity to develop a perspective of long term endeavors (Mintzberg, 1978).
A new challenge to the process of strategic thinking is that cultural changes of technology, social media, and generational differences has allowed the base of influence in an organization to broaden to the point where anyone can effectively influence change whether they are on the leadership team or not (Hughes et al., 2014). This broadening of the influence base means that everyone needs to be a part of the strategic thinking process at some level. This is concerning for leaders, though. (Mellon & Kroth, 2013).
To relieve some of the concern of including everyone in the strategic process, Mellon and Kroth (2013) provide eight characteristics of effective strategic thinkers: being mentored, having relationships with peers, spiritual discernment, formalized education, practical experience, challenging personal experiences, cultural experiences, and being avid readers of books. Identifying how many experiences various individuals have can provide leaders with a guide as to what level everyone can be involved in the strategic thinking process.
In this new model of strategic thinking, does the leader act more as a coach guiding the conversation?
Hanford, P. (1995). Developing director and executive competencies in strategic thinking. Developing Strategic Thought: Reinventing the Art of Direction-Giving, pp. 157–186.
Heracleous, L. (1998). Strategic thinking or strategic planning? Long Range Planning, 31(3), 481–487. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0024-6301(98)80015-0
Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. C., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: your role in your organization’s enduring success (Second edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mellon, J., & Kroth, M. (2013). Experiences That Enable One to Become an Expert Strategic Thinker. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education, 42(2), 70–79.
Mintzberg, H. (1978). Patterns in Strategy Formation. Management Science, 24(9), 934–948.