Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders
lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must: look for game-changing info; search beyond the current boundaries; and, build external networks.
“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to: reframe problems to get to the bottom of things; challenge current beliefs; and, uncover hypocisy, manipulation and bias in organizational decisions.
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast
(and potentially wrongheaded) solution. A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to: seek patterns in multiple sources of data; encourage others to do the same; and, question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously.
Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes
and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that
well, you have to: carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter; balance speed, rigor and agility - leave perfection to higher powers; take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views.
Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build
trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. To pull that off, you need to: undersatnd what drives other people's agendas; bring tough issues to the surface; assess risk tolerance and follow through to build necessary support.
As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by. You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure - especially failure - are valuable sources of organizational learning. Here's what you need to do: encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons; shift course quickly if you realize you're off track; celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight.
Paul J. H. Schoemaker: Founder of Decision
Strategies Intl. Speaker, professor, and entrepreneur. Research Director, Mack Ctr for Technological Innovation at Wharton, where he teaches strategy and decision-making. Latest book: Brilliant Mistakes