How to develop a ‘strategic mindset'
“…it is to see distant things as if they were close and
to take a distanced view of close things..”
If you are considering embarking on a NED career, you are expected to bring a strategic perspective to the boardroom. But what does that mean and is this something you can learn to develop?
What is strategic thinking?
As an executive for a company, as the label suggests, we are busy with the every day ‘doing’ - or executing. As a non-executive we are not there for day to day running of the business, but to bring an independent strategic perspective, an understanding of the ‘bigger picture’. A strategic mindset is stepping out of the everyday details and ‘doing’, to look at the situation from above, giving an objective perspective through a bird’s eye view.
There are three parts to developing a strategic way of working and thinking - you need the right skills, knowledge and mindset.
Firstly, you need to be able to apply and understand strategic models used so they can guide but not lead you. Secondly, you need to build up knowledge of the business and the world it operates in, trends and landscape, to create an awareness and understanding what the challenges and opportunities are that impacts the business now and, in particular, the future. Last but not least, you need to have a healthy mindset by being curious and open to be challenged and question your own thinking. It is about having the knowledge of the details but focusing on understanding how they all contribute to the whole that is the key to a strategic mindset.
What are the characteristics of a strategic thinker?
Strategic thinkers are curious and interested in continuously broadening learning and understanding of the world around them and how that impacts the business. They have a flexible approach and ability to see others perspective without feeling protective of their own suggestions, which means they are open to others views and can take criticism. A strategic view is future focussed, so that opportunities as well as challenges don’t come as a surprise, which leads to a proactive approach rather than being reactive. They have a positive outlook by seeing opportunities and solutions rather than ‘problems’.
What steps can you take to nurture your strategic thinking skills?
The critical strategic question to ask is not the conventional ‘What?’ but ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’.
Challenge your understanding and thinking, perspective
Start by changing your mindset. Move yourself from ‘doing’ and take time out of the day to thinking. Take a step back and question yourself, try and understand why you are ‘doing’. How does your contribution fit into the big picture, what is the purpose? Put yourself in the shoes of someone of the opposing view and empathise with where they come from, irrespective of whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
How? Broaden your perspective, expand your range of options bearing in mind all the stakeholders perspectives - investors, employees, customers, suppliers, societal and environmental. Seek others opinions and embrace conflict.
Observing and learning
Observe and seek internal and external trends, understand how it all fits together. This helps you focus and prioritise, and understand what is important. Explore beyond your usual sources of information to challenge your thinking.
How? Stay informed, stay curious and continuously invest in learning and development. Use trade publications, technical update, research reports, news feeds, webinars, workshops, courses and other information sources to stay on top of important trends affecting your industry, customers, suppliers, and employees etc.
Be curious and continue asking questions
With a new understanding of trends and topical issues, practice strategic thinking by asking ‘how can I expand on my thoughts and views even further?’ Start with the end in mind. Structure your strategic communication by painting the bigger picture first, the purpose, the 'why?', then understand where you are now - the gap is the strategic plan.
How? Think 'What if?' With every idea or course of action under consideration, ask yourself and others, what are the pros and cons and implications. Challenge assumptions and focus on the future, ask tough questions. Identify the forces affecting and driving the business.
Make time for thinking
Start 'being' and not 'doing', create time in the diary for thinking and reflecting. Challenge yourself without letting it become personal - ask tough questions about yourself. Focus on the issue rather than people. It can be uncomfortable and challenging but you will gain a much better understanding of how it all fits together and therefore build more confidence which helps you having more impact in the boardroom, resulting in better decision making for all. Slow down for better quality thought and perspective.
How? Take time out every day to reflect, it is important to make it regular so that it becomes a habit.
By practicing these behaviours so that it becomes second nature, you are starting to build a sound strategic mindset. You will develop an ability to be proactive rather than reactive, which means that you can identify and repel potential threats before they do real damage, but also spot valuable new opportunities ahead of competition.
In order to be strategic you need a solid understanding of the industry context, trends, and business drivers coupled with a ‘big picture’ view. The good news is that you can develop a strategic approach and mindset through training and coaching. It will be significant in terms of building your confidence and the impact you will be able to make in the boardroom and beyond.
NEDA, the Non-Executive Directors’ Association, supports and promotes NEDs through their career. To find out more about the courses and support available please go to www.nedaglobal.com or contact email@example.com