I was struck by this article by Paul Shoemaker on the “6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers”. It all makes sense and I am sure most good leaders will know this stuff – at least they will when they are away from the thick of the action.
So, what are the 6 habits effective leaders should form to get strategic?
- Think Critically
A good list (for more detail on what’s behind each item go to the article) to add to any leader’s toolkit. However, we all have “espoused” theories, and usually they are pretty sound. The problem comes when we start trying to put them into action. What we then see are “behaviours in practice”, which more often than not are quite different from what we say we should or would do.
The one additional habit I would add, is STAND BACK and OBSERVE.
This has been expressed in a number of ways by different people. One analogy I like is that of observing the dance-floor from the gallery. Every now and then it makes sense to stop dancing, and observe the dancers from the gallery. Watch their movement, the patterns they make, spot the crowded parts of the floor and watch for the different ways people are dancing. What can you learn? Then, when you rejoin the dance, you will do so with new knowledge, with a fresh perspective, and with strategies to put in to practice.
Another useful way to think about it is to consider the job of a General in the midst of a battle, with his men engaged in hand-to-hand combat. While a ‘heroic’ General may feel they should lead by example and be engaged in the thick of the battle with his men, a more strategic Leader will remove himself further up the hill to observe what is going on across the wider terrain. In doing so, he may notice that he has too many men engaged on the left flank, he may spot a break-away arm of the enemy seeking to circle his troops on the right flank, he may also determine that the opposition are looking depleted in number through the middle. Having stood back and observed, he is now better equipped to put a new strategy into place.
So, the next time you find yourself in the middle of the battle, or on the very crowded dance-floor of office politics, consider standing back and just observing. You don’t even have to do this physically. You can remain in the room, or even at the table, but adopt a different sense of being. Rise above the scene and look down and observe. You will return to the fray better equipped.
Coaching can help you develop the skills to do this effectively. If you want to discuss how you can become a more effective leader, a leader prepared for the complexity and challenges of our rapidly changing world, get in touch through the Contact Us page.
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I wrote this post back in March 2012, and the message came hurtling back to me this week, when I read some comments about key learning experienced by Sir Alex Ferguson in his early days as a manager. When he was a young manager with Aberdeen, in the days before he came to global prominence, he hired an assistant called Archie Knox. After working together a short time, Archie stunned Alex by asking him why he had hired him. At first the question stumped him, but Archie explained what he meant by it. He believed that the leader’s job was to be less involved in the detail but to stand back on the sidelines, watching and observing. This came as a surprise to Alex, as he liked to be in control, and giving that control over to Archie did not sit well with him. He did, however, decide to give it a go. He handed the detailed control of running training and practice over to Archie, while he removed himself to the sidelines to watch. He claims it was the most important decision he ever made in the field of managing and leading. Being removed from the game, he saw things he would not otherwise have seen. His field of vision had become widened, and he was able to observe players ‘off the ball’ with a fresh perspective. Archie continued to work with Sir Alex later in his career, including at Manchester United. Although never going on to have major success as a leader in his own right, he had a hugely successful career as an assistant, someone who made the leaders he worked with even more successful.