Mastering Strategic Thinking Skills
- Amruta Bhaskar
- Jul 2, 2021
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Soft skills – personal attributes, personality traits and communication techniques – are highly sought in the workplace. They characterize how you go about your duties and interact with peers. For executives leading their team and organization to success, soft skills are mission-critical.
Soft skills can’t be taught on a course. They are honed through every-day interactions and experiences in your personal and professional lives. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn soft skills; it just takes a little self-reflection and a commitment to venture outside your comfort zone.
One of the most important soft skills life science leaders can master is strategic thinking – an ongoing, evolving process that defines the manner in which you arrive at conclusions and make decisions. It is the ability to think outside the box, envisaging new solutions to age-old problems. It can allow you to see opportunities that others miss. In a turbulent, competitive market, strategic thinking can give you an edge over the opposition.
Strategic thinking skills are any skills that enable you to use critical thinking to solve complex problems and plan for the future. These skills are essential to accomplish business objectives, overcome obstacles and address challenges—particularly if they’re projected to take weeks, months, or even years to achieve.
Strategic thinking skills include:
Analytical skills: To ideate a strategy that helps your organization reach its objectives, you must be capable of analyzing a variety of inputs—from financial statements and KPIs, to market conditions, emerging business trends, and internal resource allocation. This initial analysis is crucial to creating a strategy that aligns with the current reality facing your organization.
Communication skills: Putting a strategy into place for your company, regardless of its size, requires solid communication skills. The ability to communicate complex ideas, collaborate with internal and external stakeholders, build consensus, and ensure everyone is aligned and working toward shared goals are all central to strategic thinking.
Problem-solving skills: Strategic planning is often used to solve problems or address challenges, such as missed financial targets, inefficient workflows, or an emerging competitor. Implementing a strategy that addresses the central challenge you face requires you to first understand the problem and its potential solutions. From there, you can craft a strategy that solves it.
Planning and management skills: Strategy isn’t just about thinking of a solution—it involves implementation, too. Once data has been analyzed, the problem is understood, and a solution has been identified, you need strong planning and management skills to bring everything together.
The importance of strategic thinking skills
Adopting a strategic mindset is essential for life sciences executives tasked with increasing profits, delighting customers and retaining talent. To remain competitive, life science organizations must chart a course in a business environment that is in a constant state of flux, and be prepared to change direction at a moment’s notice. In addition to the marketplace, companies must be ready to respond to changes in:
- Consumer behaviour
Strategic thinking, done right, encompasses ideation, strategic planning and operational planning to help you arrive at the most effective course of action for your given situation. It accounts for the “what”, “why”, “how” and “when”. In short, strategic thinking increases your odds of success.
Four key qualities of strategic thinkers
Bring to your mind a professional leader you admire. Have you chosen them because of their innovation, intelligence or ability to engage audiences? Or maybe you like their capacity to critique process and procedure while still being receptive to feedback and change? If your model leader possesses any of the above qualities, they’re a strategic thinker. Here are four qualities that all strategic thinkers possess, and continue to work on throughout their lives:
- They’re always learning
Strategic thinking skills are developed by committing to constant learning and self-improvement. Whether it’s learning from their own experiences, the experiences of others, books, presentations, networks, conferences or junior colleagues, strategic thinkers don’t dismiss any potential sources of education.
- They always seek advice from others
In the spirit of being able to prepare for the future and make constant improvements, strategic thinkers welcome feedback and advice from others. They test ideas and concepts and ensure that criticisms are examined and incorporated where relevant. This process makes their plans and strategies as robust and steadfast as possible.
- They’re not afraid to take risks
Great strategic thinkers understand that professional excellence doesn’t always emerge from a cookie-cutter approach. After careful consideration, they take risks on new ideas, innovative solutions and unique pitches, prepared for both success and failure, and always willing to learn from their mistakes.
- They never forget organizational purpose
Whether a business builds intuitive websites for clients or sells diverse share portfolios, strategic thinkers will never neglect their purpose or people. If the strategic thinking and planning doesn’t revolve around these two key elements, it has failed to be strategic at all.
How to improve strategic thinking skills
The ability to think strategically is rapidly becoming the deciding factor in who becomes a leader and who remains a follower. The life science industry is so fast-paced that executives, managers, and entrepreneurs have to take a holistic approach to problem-solving and decision making on a day-to-day basis. Here are five ways you can apply strategic thinking:
- Prioritize tasks- Go over your tasks, decide which ones can wait, and brainstorm ideas you can contribute to the success of your organization. Always action those task that will provide the greatest benefits today, and leave lesser tasks for tomorrow. Ask yourself, “What is the one task I can do today that will leverage the most benefit?”
- Be aware of bias- Everyone has biases. Take charge of your mind by critically examining your thoughts and questioning them. Do you hold them because they are logical or because they’ve served you well in the past? Admitting to some flawed thinking does not diminish your ability to do your job. On the contrary: you are now thinking strategically.
- Improve listening skills- Once you accept that your beliefs may contain flaws and how to overcome them, the next step is to improve your listening skills. Talk to your co-workers, employees and broader network and let their perspectives teach you new ways of thinking. Maintain an open mind, be receptive to feedback, and evaluate everything you hear.
- Hone questioning skills- Strategic thinking requires you to question everything you see or are told. This is not the same as being cynical: you’re collecting and weighing facts, not dismissing ideas or traditions. Ask if an idea is rational, with a credible source and any proof to support its value. Taking time to question something and understand why it is being proposed.
- Understand the consequences- All decisions have consequences. After listening to ideas and points of view, carefully consider the potential impact of each one. What are its pros and cons? Which one is most likely to help the organization meet its goals? This step will help you make an informed decision, and over time, making the strategic choice will come naturally.
Mastering the art of strategic thinking will do more than generate better ideas or improve your decision-making. When you encourage employees to think more critically, you build a framework that makes you a better leader, protects your business from future uncertainties, and gives you an optimal chance of achieving long-term career success.