Applying Strategic Thinking to Business Coaching
You almost certainly know that a significant difference exists between task-level thinking and strategic thinking. Unfortunately, a number of leaders who believe they’re highly strategic just aren’t. In fact, what they’re really good at is task-level thinking — handling and delegating tasks. They’re great — brilliant even — at managing complicated tasks or leading a high volume of activity in the business.
Strategic thinking and strategic leadership are more about handling the complexity that cuts horizontally and vertically through the business. Strategic thinking is multidimensional — more like Neo and Morpheus handling the Matrix than Frodo and Gandalf chasing a ring around Middle Earth.
Put simply, strategy is the direction of travel that an organization plans for over the long term. It relates to how the organization creates advantage in the marketplace that it operates in and how it organizes its resources to deliver. Some of the questions that a mentor may work through with a leader may be those strategy-level questions a potential investor may ponder when considering investment.
Do the executives have
- The right skill mix to deliver the mission and vision
- The confidence of investors and non-executive directors on the board
- A strategic big-picture focus
- The ability to proactively lead people, manage resources, and create followers who will do the same
- A hungry desire to drive for results
Do the executives understand:
- Their marketplace
- The industry and product offering
- The cultural norms in their area of business in the markets they operate in
Can the executives:
- Anticipate economic trends and how these trends may impact the industry and specifically their business
- Translate strategic intention into realizable organization-level outcomes and objectives
- Think and act strategically
- Spot trends and understand the impact of those (can they look up the hill and over the hill, too)
- Handle unanticipated consequences and risk taking
- Take decisions that align with anticipated trends and their identified strategy
- Define a clear vision, mission, and values that are in alignment
You can ask your client to rate themselves on a scale of one to ten against each of these factors. Then share your experience and knowledge of each area with him. Share what you’ve done in the past to develop yourself in each key area, where you’ve created success, and where you came unstuck.
Help your client to take each point on his scale and develop his own planned activity for improving his skills, knowledge, and experience across these dimensions. Work with your clients to help them see the gap between where they are on the scale right now, where they would like to get to, and what sits in between the two.
You then ask clients to summarize and identify the first step. Do the same for each area where the clients feel they have a development need and then take an overview to identify how to handle the development plan as a whole to make sure you have a plan that is realistic.
You can get your client to draw a scale line for each element. Take a piece of paper with the development areas down the left side. Against each one write one, two, three, all the way to ten. As you work through, get your client to mark his scaling assessment. Mark the current scale point and desired scale point for each element and write the bullet point actions in between the two scale points. Your client creates a visual record of his actions and can readily see the elements in his development program and quickly identify any overlaps, making adjustments at the end before determining the first action steps.