Don’t forget the “thinking” part of strategy


There are very few great things that come quickly in life and leadership. Great leadership requires strategy, and that must be cultivated with good old fashioned thinking. As I’ve observed and listened to leaders, I’ve uncovered some reasons why many leaders resist the thinking part of strategic thinking. See if you can recognize yourself as someone who isn’t doing the thinking they need to do to set thoughtful, effective strategies:

1. You have an extreme attraction to “doing” things. Every time you do something that you can complete quickly and get a fast end result, you get a little adrenaline rush. It feels good. Most of this “doing” is busy work that has  nothing to do with leadership or being strategic.

2. Thinking feels oddly like naval gazing. How can you justify time to think when it looks and feels like you’re not doing anything? It can also be scary to be alone with your thoughts. Anyway, you don’t know where to begin to “just think”.

3.  You’re reluctant to delegate tactical work, necessary to free up the time for you to spend thinking about strategy. Giving up doing tactical things that someone else can do means you have to find someone who can learn to do it and then train them. You just don’t have time for this.


Start Thinking Now

If you’re not thinking strategically, you just might fail as a leader. Hunkering down and doing some good old fashioned thinking is essential. Consider beginning here:

Gain a deep understanding: It’s important to spend time learning about your organization and how it is connected to the larger organization or world in order to develop successful organizational approaches. What’s your best way of learning? Consider reading up on strategies of external competitors or discussing successful internal strategies with colleagues who’ve proven themselves in this arena.

Make an appointment with yourself: Put time on your calendar to think and resist the temptation to allow something else to delay or cancel it. Get out of the office and settle in a quiet place where you can’t be found and you can do your best thinking uninterrupted by daily work.

Experiment with ways to begin thinking: If you’re not used to this kind of brain-work, you might need to find a way to begin. A little background music helps for some people. Exercise can increase blood flow to your brain before a thinking session. And once you sit down, questions such as “What are the areas that I’m responsible for that require long term attention?” and “What kind of attention to they require? Why?” will help to the thinking going.

Enlist a thinking partner: Sitting and thinking can be hard. Many leaders do their best thinking out loud as they speak. If this is true for you, find a trusted confidante to help you talk through your strategies, ask you questions, and to keep you on track as you formulate ideas.

Whenever you have an important, complicated, or tough situation that requires a solid strategy, make sure you set aside time and find a way to do your best thinking. The best leaders know that the “thinking part” is important to their strategies.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

5 comments on “Don’t forget the “thinking” part of strategy

  1. Actually reading these few lines made me realise what I was missing and most probably new it, but ignored it.

    It will take quite an effort to achieve these tasks but it’s worth the effort.


  2. Hi Mary Jo, nice post – the two tips that stand out to me are ‘make an appointment with yourself’ and ‘enlist a thinking partner’. We rarely make time for ourselves to be reflective, actually booking an appt. on the calendar is a great way of forcing the issue.
    When I lived in the U.S., I had a close friend with whom I would walk on a regular basis. We always had deep discussions on those walks – he is in the process of writing a book and often told me some of his most productive writing came in the hours that followed them.

    Best regards,

  3. Navel gazing. Very appropriate.

    This was a well timed post and one I’ll probably print off to revisit again later. Thanks for the great insight.

  4. Sometimes you need to do a little of both. I know that when I build out a project, I have an idea of what I want to build, but then you need to see it live to really understand how people interact with it. Always need to balance “Paralysis by Analysis” with ” Random Acts Of Work”

  5. Abdullah- best wishes on that!

    Carl- sometimes the simplest tips are the easiest to put into action! Nice that you’ve had a “thinking partner” who appreciates you, too.

    Kari and Josh – I’ve often noticed that “thinking” (i.e., naval gazing) doesn’t feel like one is doing something. Realistically, it’s the most important part of “doing” and the one that leaders avoid. I don’t have to remind leaders to “get to work”, but they often don’t consider that the thinking part needs to come first.

Comments are closed.