Entrepreneurs often devote a lot of time to their initial business idea, as well as the figures involved. But all too often, little time is afforded to strategic thinking.
This problem can become more acute as the business grows and the leader spends most of his time concerned with the day-to-day running of the company.
Writing for Inc.com, Paul J. H. Schoemaker observes that it's hard to be a strategic leader if you don't know what the role entails. Having advised large and small organisations over the last 20 years, the author claims he has formed a clear idea of what's required. He says adaptive strategic leaders excel at the six following things:
1) Anticipate. Rather than focusing on what's directly ahead, leaders need "peripheral vision". Effective anticipation involves: looking out for "game-changing information" on the edges of your industry or market; searching beyond your normal business boundaries; and building up external networks to alert you to opportunities on the horizon.
2) Think critically. Schoemaker warns that following fads or accepted wisdom can lead to a loss of competitive advantage. Therefore, you should: reframe problems in terms of their root causes; challenge widely held beliefs, as well as your own; and beware of hypocrisy, manipulation and bias.
3) Interpret. When faced with ambiguity, look for patterns in multiple sources of data, and encourage others to do the same. Also question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses.
4) Decide. Get to the heart of the matter and make your decision by balancing speed and rigour.
5) Align. The author insists that it's rare to achieve total consensus – therefore, a strategic leader fosters open dialogue, builds trust and engages key stakeholders. For this, you need a understanding of what drives others' agendas. You also need to bring difficult issues to the surface, no matter how uncomfortable.
6) Learn. You'll find honest feedback more difficult to obtain as your company grows. However, it will be essential. Therefore, you need to encourage honest and rigorous debriefs to gain lessons and insights. You also have to be prepared to shift course quickly when you go off track.