Strategic skills sounds like they’re really hard to learn. Is being strategic only for senior executives and CEOs? No!
No matter what level you are, all leaders can benefit from developing strategic skills. They will help you be a better leader.
It doesn’t matter what type of leader you are. You don’t even need to be in a leadership role. Everybody can be more strategic and use their time to focus on what really leads to improvement.
What Does it Mean to Be More Strategic?
Being a strategic leader has very little to do with being an executive or creating complicated business strategies. In fact, some of the least strategic leaders I’ve worked with were in senior positions.
Bringing more strategic thinking to your role isn’t hard, but it does require focus. Leaders who have strong strategic skills show the following behaviours:
- Strategic leaders are proactive, not reactive.
- Strategic leaders are intentional in their actions, words and behaviour. What they achieve isn’t just by luck.
- Strategic leaders aim to improve and future-proof their teams.
- Strategic leaders don’t waste their time. They know they can’t do everything. So they focus on doing the right things.
Strategic Skills You Can Start Developing Today
Strategic skills are not necessarily complicated. Being more strategic is achievable for any leader that is interested. Here are some of the most useful strategic skills that many leaders, including my coaching clients, have found helpful.
1. Future Thinking
One of the foundations of being strategic is to create a vision of the future you want to create. A vision is simply a picture or statement of an ideal future state.
A vision could be for your team, your role, your career, a project or your whole organisation. It all depends on the future you are interested in building.
Many leaders don’t sit down and ask themselves “Where do I want to get to?”. This simple question can help you build a vision for your ideal future state, which you can work towards.
Creating a vision will help you to:
- Develop a plan and action steps for how to move forward
- Decide whether to take on opportunities or tasks by asking “will this help me move towards my vision?”
- Engage people around you and encourage them to come on board with your direction.
Without future thinking, it’s difficult to know where you’re going. Instead of just leaving things to chance, develop a clear picture of the future that you want to create.
Learn More: The Power of Setting a Direction For Your Team.
Many leaders don’t like planning, because it doesn’t feel like you’re actually doing anything. Instead, a lot of leaders like to jump right in and just start doing stuff.
You run the risk of wasted effort and creating rework if you haven’t taken time to develop a clear plan. This doesn’t mean you need to spend months in planning. Even a simple list of bullet points can be a plan in the right circumstance.
Planning has the following benefits:
- It helps you understand what resources you need to deliver your work
- A plan helps you communicate with people who need to be involved or understand what you’re doing
- Planning makes you seem prepared, competent and thoughtful. This is helpful in making you seem like a credible leader.
Planning doesn’t sound very exciting, but you shouldn’t underestimate its value.
Prioritising your workload and the work of your team is a key strategic skill. We don’t need to use a complex process. We can start with something as simple as the “MoSCoW” model, which stands for Must, Should, Could and Won’t.
Must have tasks are at the top of the list, so do them first. Should and Could come next. The Should and Could categories are your “Nice to have” tasks. In other words, if you have additional time and resources to focus on them, go for it. But otherwise, leave them alone.
Perhaps the most important category of all are your Won’t Do tasks. These are pieces of work you have decided not to focus on, because they aren’t required to get to where you want to go.
To put it simply – decide what you must do, and what you’re going to stop doing. When you get clear on your priorities you can focus your effort and you’ll have an advantage in your workplace.
4. Building Relationships
One of the most important strategic skills that you can focus on is building relationships. Workplaces are full of people who are interacting every day. These people like to deal with others who they respect and enjoy working with.
The main benefit of building relationships is that it helps you to remain connected. You are more likely to hear about important events or opportunities in your workplace if you have a strong network.
You are also more likely to be able to build and maintain a solid reputation, when you’re well known and connected. Leaders who are isolated and keep to themselves are at risk of being “out of sight, out of mind”.
This can be a challenging skill for many leaders who are more on the introverted or softly-spoken side. However, networking does not need to involve big events or crowded bars. Some of the best relationships I’ve made at work are built from regular coffee meetings in quiet places.
Influencing is another critical strategic skill for leaders who need to get things done. Leaders are often in the business of making change, and change is hard if you’re going it alone.
If you can identify key people in your organisation who can make or break what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s good to get them on your side.
Influence will help you get key people to agree with your ideas, and to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Building relationships (the previous strategic skill) is a great start to help you influence the important people in your organisation.
So who should you influence? Well, it depends. Some key groups to focus on might include:
- People who can help you achieve your goals
- Stakeholders who might stop you from achieving your goals (if they don’t like or understand what you’re doing)
- Key decision-makers who are in charge of approving your ideas or projects; or
- People who are highly influential themselves, and who can influence others.
Influencing is not all about trying to get what you want at the expense of others, but it will help you to accomplish your goals and be more effective in leadership.
There you have it. Strategic skills are not rocket science, but they are important.
Being more strategic is something every leader can achieve if they put their mind to it. Focus on developing your strategic skills to develop your career and become a more effective leader.