How to be a strategic thinker at work and home

When I was younger, I aimed to be strategic at work. I aligned myself with editors who were most respected in the newsroom and proved myself to them. By doing so, I was better able to balance work and family and they were able to sing my praises to those above them. 

Thinking strategically is a crucial skill for achieving advancement, and one that can make your work and home life better in myriad ways.

Aaron_olson-6215 croppedMy guest blogger today is Aaron Olsen, Chief Talent Officer at Aon, a global firm specializing in risk management and human resources. In his spare time, Aaron also serves as an graduate instructor at Northwestern University and is co-author of the book Leading with Strategic Thinking. Aaron and his co-author, B. Keith Simerson, say you become a strategic thinker and leader by going about it in a focused way. Below are their suggestions:

  • Recognize patterns. Strategic leaders  make connections that others do not, taking an active approach to reviewing relevant data and seeking out information and experiences that can provide new insights.
  • Make choices. Strategic leaders take a disciplined approach to decision making that identifies all options and then they select the one that creates the most value.
  • Manage risks. Strategic leaders find ways to maximize the balance between risk and reward, identifying and handling challenges to ensure that a good plan isn’t undermined by unexpected surprises.

By doing these three things well, strategic leaders create results. They also stand out from the crowd, which can open doors for additional career opportunities.

How can individuals get better at doing these three things? One place to start is by looking for opportunities to generate new ideas and get creative.

Here are some practical things you can do to stimulate creative thinking:

  • Get uncomfortable. Engage in communities, conferences, or reading that is outside your typical area of expertise.
  • Ponder. Set aside time in your week that doesn't involve completing routine tasks and think about your work. What works well? What could be done differently?
  • Explore. Visit places where you will encounter unfamiliar people, cultures, or ideas. How do they go about work or life differently?
  • Circulate. Spend time with coworkers in your organization with different roles. What are they doing and how does it relate to your work?
  • Embrace change. Debate commonly held assumptions about your work or business. Are technology or trends creating change that you should apply in your work?
  • Think differently. Imagine a situation in which you (or your organization) could no longer work the same way—what would you do?

Each of these activities can open up a new way of thinking and reveal unexplored opportunities. Finding time for one or more of them in your schedule can be a practical first step towards thinking and acting more strategically.

This summer, ask yourself whether you are spending too much time on low-value tasks and not enough on big-picture strategic thinking. If you're frustrated with your lack of advancement, stagnant personal growth or unclear priorities, take time to put some more effort into strategic thinking and leadership. By fall, you should be able to see results.

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The Work/Life Balancing Act

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