Strategy is almost synonymous with leadership, but too often training and development for leadership roles focuses more on strategic planning than strategic thinking (yes, there’s a difference!). Read on for more on strategic thinking in training.
“An increasing number of organizations are putting strategic thinking on their list of topics. It’s becoming a bigger priority, and the reason is leaders need to address challenges now that are changing,” says Aaron K. Olson, chief talent officer at Aon plc and coauthor of Leading with Strategic Thinking.
For example, technology, globalization, and unpredictability in business are driving change, he says. As a result, “things that have worked before are not necessarily going to work going forward.”
When incorporating strategic thinking into leadership development, the focus should be on how to help supervisors and managers become better strategic thinkers.
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Olson says. “That doesn’t mean teaching strategic planning.” Although strategic planning has its place, strategic thinking is different, he says, adding that “you really want to teach people how to do three things … recognize patterns, make effective choices, and manage risks.”
Recognizing patterns includes looking at both formal sources of information (e.g., status reports) and informal sources of information (e.g., what leaders learn when spending time with their teams), as well as looking for “connections” among different types of information, he says.
Making effective choices involves creating a structured approach to solving problems, such as identifying the problem that you are trying to solve, the root causes, and potential solutions.
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Olson says leaders often overlook the third element of strategic thinking: managing risk. They tend to “focus more on having a good plan and not enough on what can go wrong.”
To teach the three elements of strategic thinking, Olson suggests using actual case studies relevant to your industry and having leaders work individually or breaking them down into small groups to tackle each element of strategic thinking.
Then, he recommends having training participants share their recommendations with each other, which gives them an opportunity to compare approaches. “It’s not about having the right answer. It’s about having thought through your answer.”