This post is by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn from HBR.org
Decide what success looks like and work backwards from there.
Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of the Reboot Foundation, believes that a lack of critical thinking is responsible for many business failures. She says organizational leaders often rely too heavily on expertise and then jump to conclusions. Instead, leaders should deliberately approach each problem and devote time thinking through possible solutions. The good news, she says, is that critical thinking skills can developed and practiced over time. Bouygues is the author of the HBR.org article “3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking.”
Almost every leader wants to make more time for strategic thinking. In one survey of 10,000 senior leaders, 97% of them said that being strategic was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success.
And yet in another study, a full 96% of the leaders surveyed said they lacked the time for strategic thinking. Of course, we’re all oppressed with meetings and overwhelmed with emails (an average of 126 per day, according to a Radicati Group analysis).
But leaders presumably could take at least some steps to prioritize what they claim to be an imperative. What could account for such a massive misalignment between their stated goals and their actions?
One issue is the incentives put in place — often unconsciously — by companies. Even for senior professionals, there’s frequently cultural pressure to put in long hours, which researchers have discovered often serve as a proxy
Mindfulness is now seen as a crucial skill in business. Meditation practices have the capacity to calm the mind, relax the body, boost resilience, and even increase situational awareness. The study of mindfulness — often defined as paying attention, nonjudgmentally and on purpose — is a regular part of the creativity and wellness culture at firms around the world.
But although mindfulness may seem to be a fairly new phenomenon, it’s not. It first influenced business decades ago, through the development of an unmistakably hard skill that senior managers must master: strategic planning. Leaders today would be wise to learn from the past and to view strategic planning and mindfulness together. Before explaining why, though, a bit of history.
Pierre Wack, who was head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch/Shell in the 1970s, studied meditation extensively with teachers in Asia and, later, with the famous 20th-century mystic
Most companies have articulated their purpose — the reason they exist. But very few have made that purpose a reality for their organizations.
Consider Nokia. Before the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, Nokia was the dominant mobile phone maker with a clearly stated purpose — “Connecting people” — and an aggressive strategy for sustaining market dominance. Seeking to extend its technological edge (particularly in miniaturization), it acquired more than 100 startup companies while pursuing a vast portfolio of research and product development projects. In 2006 alone, Nokia introduced 39 new mobile-device models. Few imagined that this juggernaut, brandishing vast resources with such steely determination, could be quickly brought down.
In retrospect, it seems inevitable. Nokia was so immersed in executing its strategy that it lost sight of its purpose. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone as “a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has
Nancy started her day feeling prepared to brief her executive team on a high-stakes project she had been working on for the past two months. She had rehearsed her slide deck repeatedly, to the point where she had every level of content practically memorized. She arrived at the meeting early and waited patiently, yet anxiously, for her part of the agenda. The meeting began, and within a few minutes Jack, one of the cochairs, asked her to brief the executives on her project and recommendations.
Nancy enthusiastically launched into her presentation, hitting every talking point that she had meticulously rehearsed. With a solid command of the material, she felt at the top of her game and was relieved that she’d spent so much time practicing and preparing for this meeting. But just as she was about to move into her recommendations, Jack interrupted and said, “Nancy,
An unbridled urgency can be counterproductive and costly. If you’re too quick to react, you can end up with short-sighted decisions or superficial solutions, neglecting underlying causes and create collateral damage in the process.
But if you’re too deliberative and slow to respond, you can get caught flat-footed, potentially missing an opportunity or allowing an emergent challenge to consume you.
To balance these two extremes, you need reflective urgency — the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment — to align your best thinking with the swiftest course of action. In my work, coaching leaders at every level through a variety of management dilemmas, I’ve developed three strategies to practice reflective urgency:
Diagnose your urgency trap. To get started, you need to identify what’s limiting your quality thinking time — the habitual, unconscious, and often counterproductive ways that you push harder to get ahead when you feel the pressure
If you asked the world’s most successful business leaders what it means to “be strategic,” how many different answers do you think you’d get? Consider this number: 115,800,000. It’s the number of unique links returned when I searched online for “strategic leadership.”
There’s a good reason for all of those links: Strategy is complex. Thought leaders from all over the world have created sophisticated frameworks designed to help leaders grapple with their own strategies at an abstract level. But the reality is that strategy succeeds or fails based on how well leaders at every level of an organization integrate strategic thinking into day-to-day operations. This is less about complexity and more about practical focus.
How can you personally be more strategic as a leader? Consider asking yourself and your team the five questions below to drive clarity, alignment, and strategic insight. The questions build on one another, leading to
As a former consultant, I have a deep and abiding love for the use of 2×2 matrices in business strategy. My favorites are those that highlight two factors that seem, at first glance, in conflict. I find these particularly relevant to personal development, as individuals often must resolve the tensions between competing values and traits and must carefully monitor their own strengths so those strengths don’t lapse into weaknesses.
I’ve recently been thinking about this with regard to how leaders can be more strategic, able to effectively execute the core of their business while remaining open to trends in the market and adapting to meet them. I’ve begun to view this as the ability to hold two specific traits in balance: consistency and agility. You can picture it like this:
The best performers are, of course, consistent. Consistent leaders work hard and show up on time. They set goals
If you’ve ever received feedback that you “need to be more strategic,” you know how frustrating it can feel. To add insult to injury, the feedback rarely comes with any concrete guidance on what to do about it. One of my coaching clients, Lisa, a vice president of HR, was in this situation and explains, “I was just told to think bigger picture and to be more strategic. It felt like I had been given the definition of a word by using the same word. It just wasn’t helpful.”
So what specific steps can you take to be more strategic in your current role?
Start by changing your mindset. If you believe that strategic thinking is only for senior executives, think again. It can, and must, happen at every level of the organization; it’s one of those unwritten parts of all job descriptions. Ignore this fact and you risk