Strategic thinking for the busy leader

How to be a more strategic thinker as a busy leader

Almost every leader expresses a desire to have more time at their disposal for strategic thinking. In a survey that included 10,000 senior executives, 97% of them indicated that being strategic was the aspect of leadership that was most crucial to the success of their organization.

According to another study conducted by Rich Horwath of the Strategic Thinking Institute, 96% of CEOs claim they don’t have time to invest in strategic thinking! Thus, 97% believe it is the most important task, yet 96% claim they lack the time to complete it! Now, there is a gap between our words and actions!

It is possible that the obstacle to strategic thinking is on the inside. According to studies conducted in the United States of America, being busy is an indication of higher social standing. In the words of Silvia Bellezza and her colleagues from Columbia Management School: “By informing others that we are always busy and working, we imply that we are in demand.” Hence, in addition to the very real obligations that are placed on our calendars, there is also a temptation to dive headfirst into the chaos: It’s a sign of how far we have come in our professional lives. Because of this, executives may be unwilling, even unconsciously, to give up the benefits to their sense of self-esteem that being busy gives.

As a result of these pressures, both from the inside and the outside, encourages us to engage in mindless activity rather than strategic thinking.

How to be a more strategic leader

It’s important to keep in mind that strategic thinking doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You don’t have to take endless sabbaticals or go on leadership retreats. Productivity expert David Allen stated in a book named Stand Out, “You don’t need time to have a good idea; you need space.” It doesn’t take any time to come up with a new idea or make a choice, but if you don’t have mental space, those things aren’t impossible, but they’re not the best.

Even though you have a limited amount of time and the same number of duties, it is much simpler to think strategically if you can clear the decks by doing basic things such as writing down all of your outstanding tasks in one spot. This allows you to properly prioritize them and prevents you from being repeatedly distracted by the sensation that you overlooked anything.

Liberate Yourself from Execution

When you are continuously jumping between tasks or when your day is jam-packed with meetings, it is tough to find the time to think about the bigger picture.

There is a common pitfall that many managers fall into, which is that they are still so focused on the day-to-day execution of duties that they lack the mental capacity to perform the strategic work that is necessary to develop themselves and their teams.

You can fix this by delegating more of your responsibilities. Give the members of your team the authority to take on responsibilities that will give them opportunities to learn. Do an analysis of your agenda and search for meetings that you can skip or hand off to another party. Regain command of your schedule by setting aside certain blocks of time and improving your boundary setting.

Set priorities ruthlessly

“Important” is the adversary of “urgent.” And if you spend your entire career reacting to fire drills, you will ultimately find yourself in a reactionary loop of being behind the eight-ball — never in front of it.

New issues and opportunities will always strive for your attention. So, if you desire to become a true strategic leader, you must select and prioritize only such tasks that advance the business’ basic objectives, i.e., ways to save time, earn more money, or expand the organization in some other way. Aside from that, you are merely busy for the purpose of being busy.

To prioritize ruthlessly, you must be able to answer the question, “What is the most critical task I must complete in this role?” Keep your goals in the forefront of your mind at all times, and train yourself to be comfortable with saying “no” and pushing back against competing requests. This can be challenging for Strivers who want to avoid conflict.

Engage in deep work

Deep work is the capacity to concentrate on a cognitively difficult task without distraction. It’s a skill that enables you to understand complex knowledge rapidly and generate superior results in less time. Deep work will improve your performance and provide you with the sense of genuine satisfaction that comes from craftsmanship.

For being strategic thinker as a busy leader, eliminating distractions is a crucial component of deep work. When you switch between tasks, such as checking your phone while composing a project proposal, a portion of your focus remains on the previous task. Deep work is also the best approach to acquire new abilities rapidly. When you concentrate intently, your brain solidifies learning pathways and reinforces synaptic connections so that neurons can fire more rapidly. This means that when you concentrate intensely on a particular skill, you are literally rewiring your brain to perform that skill more effectively.

Bill Gates, who adopted deep working habits as Microsoft’s CEO, tended to work early in the morning and late at night, when the office was relatively quiet. Also, he designated one week every year as “Think Week.” During that time, he secluded himself in a distant house to conduct research, read, and formulate strategies – the epitome of deep work.

As soon as we become conscious of the implicit “busy = important” frame that permeates our culture, it will be much simpler for us to let go of this frame and instead adopt one that is more amenable to in-depth strategic thinking. According to Derek Sivers, an entrepreneur and author, “busy is what happens when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.” This is one perspective that is different from the conventional wisdom.

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