Strategic Thinking is the New Black
For Professionals Looking to Grow – Part 1 of 2
“When asked to select the leadership behaviors most critical to their organizations’ future success, executives chose strategic 97% of the time…A strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied,” per a 2013 large-scale global study conducted by Management Research Group (MRG)
Every nonprofit organization needs strategic thinkers, but strategic thinking doesn’t always come naturally to team members. In my coaching practice, I work with employees who want to grow professionally by developing the ability to think strategically. It may seem like this is an innate skill that you’re either born with or not, but in fact there are tips and tactics that can shift your mindset.
Looking to Advance Your Career? Listen First, Then Ask Strategic Questions
Professionals who want to elevate their careers and become strategic thinkers must be able to think in a broader context, to connect a task to the bigger picture, and to add value in that way. The way to do that is to change the way that you listen.
According to Harvard Business Review, “Most of us miss opportunities in interactions through the default ways we listen. Like other critical communication skills, listening well depends on awareness of the goals, our own habits, and choosing how to respond. The good news is, with practice, we can all be more effective listeners.”
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, has said “Listening was the most important thing I accomplished each day, because it would build the foundation of leadership for years to come.”
Some team members may need to talk less and listen more. Others may be listening but aren’t focused on the strategic aspects of what they hear. Everyone needs to listen with an ear to the why behind the tasks: What is the overarching goal of the project? Think beyond the task at hand and try to assess how your tasks contribute to the larger goal. Don’t just think about the things you need to get done, listen to pick up broader context. When you have the opportunity, ask leadership: What engages you about our mission? What do you think is important about our work? Where do you hope to see the organization in the next 3-5 years? What do you think the greatest challenges are? What are external challenges?
Leaders consider these questions all the time (or ought to) and appreciate team members who demonstrate a deeper level of interest. Reflect on how you can get out of the silo of your own role. Do you see board members in the course of your work? Do you staff committees? Is there a way to take initiative outside of your role? That doesn’t mean stepping on others’ toes or burning yourself out, but rather developing healthy curiosity, learning more about the big picture, and leaning into new opportunities.
Strategic Thinking is about Growth
If you want to advance in your career, you need to be a strategic thinker. This mindset is for people looking for growth. Everyone is distracted by the tasks at hand, but it’s all about a greater goal. Those who fix on the greater goal understand the why. For those who connect with the why, work becomes more rewarding than checking things off a list.