Where do you see your business in five years? How do you plan to achieve that vision? What might you be missing that could unlock a potential you don’t even see yet? What sticky problem keeps gumming up progress? And most importantly, how often do you give yourself a bit of strategic thinking time to chew on questions like these?
Business leaders are the visionaries, the strategists, the ultimate influencers in their organizations. If they don’t lead the way, no one else on their team will prioritize anything beyond the status quo.
Lack of attention to strategy costs dearly. Rick Horwath, CEO of Strategic Thinking Institute, cites a ten-year study by Harvard Business School that showed “firms with clearly defined and well-articulated strategies, on average, outperformed competitors by 304 percent in profits, 332 percent in sales, and a whopping 883 percent in total return to shareholders. Yes, strategy does matter.”
Barriers to strategic thinking time
Vision and strategy require solitary thinking time. Yet in Horwath’s own research, 96 percent of managers surveyed identified time, or lack of it, as the biggest barrier to their own strategic thinking. Daily responsibilities overwhelm them. “When there is a lot to get done, time to think is often the first thing to go,” Horwath says.
Solution: Chuck Gulledge of Forbes Coaches Council recommends a cadence that treats thinking time like any other obligation. Choose two hours every day, and let it be known that you are not available then. Block out one day a month when you will be cogitating away from the office. And unplug; check email only at designated times.
Vision gets sacrificed to the urgent. “Firefighting” is a common barrier to executive thinking time. It’s a bad habit to get into. And leadership sets the tone, says Horwath. From there it filters down to managers, until “firefighting then becomes embedded in the culture and those that are seen as the most reactive, oddly enough, garner the greatest recognition.”
Solution: To slow things down and not let your time get consumed, he recommends replying to every urgent matter brought to you with, “Let’s think about that.” How will it support your strategic focus, or conversely pull you away from it? Is the house truly burning down? Who else can handle the issue?
It might be a people problem, Ben Chestnut, CEO of MailChimp, told Chris Savage of Wistia. “Ben looked me in the eye and told me that either I wasn’t delegating enough or I didn’t have the right people around me,” says Savage. When business leaders believe they are indispensable to every project, they sabotage their own growth, that of their team, and ultimately that of their bottom line.
Solution: Learn to delegate. Identify who can most efficiently and skillfully pilot each project. If you need to outsource, do so. Sometimes we all benefit from personal examination to figure out why we continue unproductive patterns. If you have trouble letting go, tap into coaching resources to help you establish habits that will be healthier for you and your organization.