Who Defines Strategic?
When asked to step up to the next level and be more strategic, many managers worry because they often don’t know what that means, how to do it or what it looks like. They’re intimidated by an image in their minds of visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and think, “Well, I’m not visionary like that.”
Because people are afraid they are going to fail at being strategic, they often spend their time doing the lower-level task-oriented stuff within their comfort zone. Think of the last time you blocked out an hour in your calendar to work on a highly strategic project. Did you jump in feet first and attack it with your sleeves rolled up? Or did you begin and then get happily distracted by an email, or someone stopping by your office? That first distraction
probably led to a series of distractions, until before you knew it, the hour was up and relieved, you no longer had to face working on the project.
Why do we do this? Fear. The executives I work with are highly intelligent, talented people. But when confronted with solving problems that are out of their comfort zone, or have no immediate solution, they can become stymied in their efforts. The blank page surfaces our self-doubt and we wonder:
Am I good leader?
Do people think I’m a fraud?
Do I have what it takes?
Why did they hire me for this position in the first place?
Should I just go back to doing the technical work? Since that’s what I’m good at.
In order to avoid these feelings, we turn to something we can feel successful at. Like banging out ten emails or checking 4 more items off the to-do list.
The problem is that this then creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where we are great at being tactical — but bad at being strategic. When in fact, we never really give ourselves the chance to try.
I often hear people talking about being strategic as if it’s a gene they are either born with or not. But in reality, being strategic is really about taking the time to think about things. Blocking out the time in your calendar, removing all distractions and slogging through. Especially when you don’t know the answer or have a solution to the problem.
One executive I work with closes his door, turns off his email, places the blank sheet of paper in front of him and does not allow himself to move for an entire hour. He says the first five minutes are torture and seem like forever, but the longer he sits with it, the more ideas surface, a few words get scribbled down and his mind becomes creative.
In addition to setting aside an hour of uninterrupted time, other ways to help you become more strategic include:
1. Set a goal of why you want to work on the issue at hand. Why is it important to you or your organization that you spend time thinking about it?
2. List what fears you have about the project or issue, or your ability to execute them.
3. Have a piece of paper nearby to track any anxieties as they come up during the process. Being aware of your anxieties and fears can often cut short that impulsive trip to the cookie jar or stifle the urge to check the latest Facebook posting, keeping you on track with the task at hand.