Strategic thinking (skills)

In its simplest form, strategic thinking is an ability to plan for the future. It’s the capacity to prepare strategies and conjure ideas that will both cope with changing environments and consider the various challenges that lie ahead. Candidates that possess strategic thinking skills will be seen as top talent, and it’s a quality that makes many managers, directors and executives the successful leaders they are.

Here’s our advice on becoming a powerful strategic thinker.

4 key qualities of strategic thinkers

Bring to your mind a professional leader you admire. Have you chosen them because of their innovation, intelligence or ability to engage audiences? Or maybe you like their capacity to critique process and procedure while still being receptive to feedback and change? If your model leader possesses any of the above qualities, they’re a strategic thinker. Here are four qualities that all strategic thinkers possess, and continue to work on throughout their lives:

  1. They’re always learning
    Strategic thinking skills are developed by committing to constant learning and self-improvement. Whether it’s learning from their own experiences, the experiences of others, books, presentations, networks, conferences or junior colleagues, strategic thinkers don’t dismiss any potential sources of education.
     
  2. They always seek advice from others
    In the spirit of being able to prepare for the future and make constant improvements, strategic thinkers welcome feedback and advice from others. They test ideas and concepts and ensure that criticisms are examined and incorporated where relevant. This process makes their plans and strategies as robust and steadfast as possible.
     
  3. They’re not afraid to take risks
    Great strategic thinkers understand that professional excellence doesn’t always emerge from a cookie-cutter approach. After careful consideration, they take risks on new ideas, innovative solutions and unique pitches, prepared for both success and failure, and always willing to learn from their mistakes. 
     
  4. They never forget organisational purpose
    Whether a business builds intuitive websites for clients or sells diverse share portfolios, strategic thinkers will never neglect their purpose or people. If the strategic thinking and planning doesn’t revolve around these two key elements, it has failed to be strategic at all. 

Improving your strategic thinking skills

It should be clear by now that strategic thinking is immensely valuable for progressing your career, but that it also has wide application in your personal life. It’s a skill that enables you to plan and apply reason to many challenges that you face, always seeking the best and most effective solution. So how do you get it? Start working on these areas to enhance your strategic thinking skills, no matter what role or industry you’re in. 

  • Be proactive
    Understanding that strategic thinking is all about being prepared for the future, take initiative and do things before you’re asked to, or you need to respond reactively. Did you obtain extra copies of a board report in anticipation of those who have not provided an RSVP? Have you been backing up all the departments key files onto an additional source in case of system crash? If so, you tick the proactive box, and keep up the good work.
     
  • Understand counter arguments
    It would be rare for a strategic thinker to believe that their ideas, and their ideas alone, were always right. Developing an understanding and appreciation of opposing ideas, opinions, arguments or positions will develop your strategic thinking skills by creating an understanding of the whole picture. The more you explore alternative arguments, the easier you’ll find seeing projects and ideas holistically will become. 
     
  • Constantly optimise
    No matter what project or piece of work you’re tasked with, always look for ways to optimise and improve what you produce. Strategic thinking is all about being able to recast strategy and reset direction; being adaptable and ambitious simultaneously.  Make sure everything you work on, from a social media report, to a team presentation, to a market research paper generates maximum value. 
     
  • Keep up-to-date with news and trends
    Join networks, read widely, engage with employees from different teams in your organisation and look for clues of upcoming trends and concepts everywhere you can. Understand how your role works not just in the context of your workplace, but more broadly in businesses across Australia, or even globally. Seek out mentors and experts who can share their own experiences and tips for keeping on top of the most important and current ideas relevant to you.

Strategic thinking is an ability to envisage new solutions to old problems, and to constantly reinvent your point of view in a way that is unique, and benefits the purpose of your organisation. It’s a key skill required if you have any intention of climbing the corporate ladder, so start work on your strategic thinking skills today.