IT Best Practices

6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

Good leaders want to get things done. They like to tackle new projects hands-on and get results. But in today’s business climate where change is the only constant, IT leaders can no longer afford to invest themselves directly into every project, not when they also need to be keeping an ear out for potential new challenges and opportunities. To that end, IT leaders must start thinking strategically in both the way they delegate and in how they approach the new issues always cropping up on the horizon. Paul J. H. Schoemaker writes about six habits that define a truly strategic thinker:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Think critically
  3. Interpret
  4. Decide
  5. Align
  6. Learn

In order to best anticipate, you need to have “peripheral vision,” the ability to look outside the boundaries of business and detect wild cards that could play into the future of the business. Building external networks will help to give you eyes in many places. Thinking critically meanwhile means not subscribing to every new fad and safe opinion in the business. You need to hunt for the root causes of problems and discern when decisions are being made because of unfair bias. And with confronting these issues then comes interpretation:

Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:

  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously

When it comes time to make decisions, the ability to make a “good enough” decision is much more expedient than agonizing long and hard over making a “perfect” decision. Take the best stance you can even when not all the facts are available. How to then align stakeholders is largely a matter of building trust and understanding what is most important to each individual involved. In the end, encouraging honesty during and at the end of projects and celebrating both successes and well-intentioned failures will foster useful learning experiences to strengthen the business going ahead. Being able to internalize all six of these outlined habits may be challenging, but then again, if there was no challenge, you would not need a strategy.

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