Develop strategic thinkers throughout your firm

In study after study, strategic thinkers are found to be among the most highly effective leaders. But is there a way to encourage routine strategic thinking throughout an organization?

March 27, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: Chaiwat via

In study after study, strategic thinkers are found to be among the most highly effective leaders. But is there a way to encourage routine strategic thinking throughout an organization?

In 2013, Management Research Group completed a large-scale global study addressing this question. The study evaluated the leadership practices and effectiveness of 60,000 managers and executives in 140+ countries and 26 industries. 

“We found that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied,” writes Robert Kabacoff, Ph.D., vice president of research at the firm, in a Harvard Business Review article

It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors. 

“Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead and planning,” he writes. “That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there. It also means thinking systemically.”

In the study, the leaders who scored well on those skills were six times more likely to be seen as effective as the leaders who were low on them, independent of any of their other behaviors. They were also four times more likely to be seen as individuals with significant future potential within their organizations.

Here are some ways you can foster strategic thinking as part of your management approach:

• Encourage managers to set a regular time aside for strategic planning (alone and in meeting with others).

• Provide information to your leaders on the market, the industry, customers, competitors and new technologies that influence your business.

• Keep people informed on what is happening internally.

• Connect managers with a mentor.

• Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, mission and goal statement throughout the organization.

• Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting; wherever possible, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management.

• Promote a future perspective for employees by incorporating it into training and development programs; teach people what strategic thinking is and encourage them to ask “why” and “when” questions. 

Read more from Harvard Business Review.

Editor's note: This is sponsored content. The text was provided by the sponsor company. 

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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