Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Proportion of Managers are actually Strategic Thinkers?

Some leaders likened strategic thinking to “picking up an elephant and making a right turn.”!

Being able to think strategically is a specific skill that perhaps not everyone has. There are definitely people who are more operational than strategic. Statistically, only 5% of the population is nature strategic thinker. Given that, the importance of diversity and formulating a team that has complementing skills cannot be understated. An organization needs people that can turn that strategic thinking into reality. These same people though probably struggle with the potentially "fuzzy" nature of strategy. So what is the strategic thinking all about, and is it nature or nurtured anyway?

Strategic thinking is a little bit like being an orchestral conductor. Some people can do it, some people can't. Everybody can improve their skills in the sense that anyone can learn to wave their arms in the prescribed manner, but that doesn't make you a conductor. Similarly, you might pass an exam on strategy, but that doesn't make you a strategic thinker. Still, strategic thinking is a skill that most can learn; but these things cannot be taught, which explains why so many strategic plans are poorly designed and carried out. Just like all skills, some people have a greater aptitude for it than others. The challenge is to find the right balance in a leadership team between strategic thinking and operational competence. A good leader will recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of the team, and recruit or train accordingly. It does, of course, mean that there is a demand for those who can and do think strategically, which is a good thing. The real misfortune is to be found when those who cannot work in this way insist on doing so.

The good balance of strategic thinking and execution. The majority of people are comfortable 'thinking' today versus 'outside the box'. Sometimes the Board or senior executives struggle with this issue because they do not think strategically themselves. There also needs to be a balance in the strategic types and the people good at execution..too much thinking and not enough action is not good. Most managers - most people - are essentially not capable of independent strategic thinking. This is fortunate since it enables one to make a living. A substantial minority of managers, although unable to do the 'strategy thing' themselves, do understand that it is not merely important but essential to long-term success. Consequently, they will cooperate at a certain level. The real problems are the ones who do not understand on any level - they can be very obstructive. This means you have to create a strategy to bypass their influence.

Strategic thinking needs to become an integral part of the corporate culture. Companies that encourage strategic thinking as an ongoing pursuit are more nimble, more adaptive and quicker to capitalize on opportunities. However, for that to work, strategic thinking needs to become an integral part of the corporate culture – no small challenge considering that strategic thinking, by its nature, threatens the status quo. Some leaders likened it to “picking up an elephant and making a right turn.”

The ability to think strategically involves certain attributes; some of which are simply inherent in people: 
(1) Spatial thinking and visionary recognition, which only a very few people have 
(2) Matrix thinking and interactive connectivity, which only a few people have 
(3) Data analysis and interpretation, which only a few people have 
(4) Creativity, which declines from 95% at 5 years of age to 5% at 30 years of age.

At many levels, there are limited people that are strategic thinkers. Just like leadership as a skill set that is needed at every level. Although not everyone needs, nor should they be strategic thinkers. The key is to understand who the strategic thinkers are and provide them the ability to utilize these skills to help in discussing the direction and various options a company can go. The general misnomer is that executives are leaders, strategic thinkers, and more simply have the right answers. It's the companies that find a balanced workforce and understand people's skillsets and optimize them that greatly enhance their chances for success.


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