Empower Yourself: A 7-Step Guide for Senior Female Leaders to Strengthen Strategic Thinking
In the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world we navigate, strategic thinking is an indispensable tool for senior female leaders to leverage. It may seem like a daunting task to balance strategic thinking with the multitude of responsibilities that come with your role. However, these seven steps will guide you towards enhancing your strategic thinking, without disrupting your work-life balance.
These seven steps are how I thrived as a CEO leading over 5,000 people globally.
Why Focus On Your Strategic Thinking Skills?
It is still an area that women share with me they get feedback on. Often vague feedback that they need to sharpen their strategic thinking and challenge conventional thinking to support the complex problems most organizations face today. It is feedback given without the "how to". These 7 steps are the How-To build a strategic mindset that we all need. It will develop your unique competitive advantage.
The simple truth is that there is a direct connection between how busy you are, the time you spend on "strategic thinking" and how people perceive you. The second truth is that leadership is all about discipline.
At its core, Strategic mindsets require time and deep thinking skills. It's the ability to analyse complex situations, analyse potential outcomes, make well informed decisions, set priorities about what to start doing and STOP doing to achieve long term goals. It is about looking up and looking out to assess broader trends, patterns, risks and opportunities. As Michael Porter says " to set yourself apart from the competition".
We always start by asking professional female leaders we work with to reflect on the following question.
"What do people see when they look at you?"
Do they see a strategic thinker, articulating their vision, looking up, proactive with new ideas, communicating in concise planned messages and disciplined about their time? Or do they see a non-strategic thinker, running at a frenetic pace, doing it all, head down, not investing in relationships, saving the day and in a reactive state? If a 10 is a Strategic thinker, where would you rate yourself on a scale of 0 - 10.
Step 1 - Strategic Thinkers Are Stepping Back from the Hustle
First and foremost, take a breather from the relentless pace of your role. This is not about avoiding duties, but about carving out valuable moments for reflection that will feed your strategic insights. The starting discipline is to up the ante on looking after yourself. What are three things you can do this week to increase your energy? Sleep is an underestimated resource. Water? Time in nature. A lunch break?
I always say get out of your inbox. Email Apnoea is the new Sleep Apnoea - we literally hold our breath when we read emails. A recent study by Laura Giurge of London Business School and Vanessa Bohns of Cornell University found that "receivers of an email routinely overestimate how quickly its sender expects a reply". Hot tip this week - colour code your emails so you never miss a super important one. Ignore the rest for a few days.
Step 2 - Clarify Your Priorities
Knowing what matters most to you is crucial. Connecting the dots between what matters most to your company and doing the research to get as much context as you can about how your role supports this is key. Have the conversation with key stakeholders to make sure you are all on the same page. I often hear from leaders who work in matrix organisations with multiple reporting lines. Get all of them on the same page. Put all of your priorities on a single page and address and work through any opposing ideas.
If you are like me you probably have FOMO. Turn a few meetings down or shortern them. Who said 30 minutes or 60 minutes was the default. Work out how much time you are spending on the actual things that matter in your role. This clarity will allow you to channel your energy and resources effectively, enhancing your strategic thinking.
If you could find 2 hours this week to get really clear on what needs to be done this month, then can you get clear on what needs to be done today.
Step 3 - Command Your Calendar
Own your diary before everyone else does. Is it currently aligned with your key priorities? The simple act and discipline of implementing a planning process is the single best investment you will make in your career. It is a skill that senior executives regularly use to create space for critical thinking. Decision making, new ideas and business strategy don't happen when they are wedged between back to back meetings. Your schedule never lies. It is a reflection of the future.
Prioritize your strategic thinking time before other commitments find their way into your diary.
Step 4 - Determine Your F.I.T. Ratio
How FIT are you at setting strategic direction and challenging conventional thinking? At Brave Feminine Leadership we use the F.I.T. Ratio as a Guide. Do you know how you are spending time at work? Are you focused on Forward looking, vision setting and deep thinking. How much of your time is Invested in building capability, coaching your team, upskilling yourself? Lastly how much of your time is caught up in a Tempo of back to back meetings, the sort of busy work that keeps you lurching from crisis to crisis? There is no bullet proof ratio - the starting point is to know yours.
Executives are paid to think and to invest in thought processes to overcome obstacles, solve problems and drive innovation. Are you F.I.T?
Step 5 - Gain External Perspectives To Start Strategic Planning
The pace of change means leaders simply do not have all the answers. It is amazing to think that by collaborating and knowledge sharing we will get closer to solving the wicked problems ahead of us. We simply won't find all of the answers in our team or in our organizations or even in our industry. As a starting point, what Global Trends do you need to be aware of? How do they link strategically to your organization, to your world? What networking events are you attending that take you out of your world and expose you to external stakeholders? Gather as much information as you can to understand the challenges and thinking processes applied by other executives.
Step 6 - Reject the 'All or Nothing' Approach
We get overwhelmed when we try to make too many changes all at once. However, it's crucial to avoid the 'all or nothing' mentality. Small, consistent steps and practice can lead to significant changes. Choose one of the 5 steps above to implement this week or keep it really simple and google Global Risks Report for this year and read it.
Step 7 - Free Time is the Answer To Become A Strategic Thinker
Don't fill your free time. In my experience there is comfort in staying in the busy and as soon as I start recommending people make space in their diary and block out time to think, the objections start rolling in. The single biggest objection is what will other people think. Often our diaries are shared and visible with our teams and it is like we link our value to how busy we are. Let that go immediately. You can be a brilliant executive, get a lot of things done and have space for strategic thought. Don't view free time as a luxury. It is within these quiet moments that your mind can wander, generating strategic ideas and solutions. Embrace and harness these opportunities.
The answer to being a truly strategic thinker is in the free time.
These steps have been tried and tested by successful female executives. The outcomes include the ability to maintain better work-life harmony, the ability to add their voice to key decisions, the ability to lead and influence change and make impact. Having a supportive network can be pivotal.
I recently launched a new Activity eBook, designed to provide a kickstart for senior female leaders to excel in their strategic thinking skills. How? By creating time and space to reflect and to put thinking into action. So that we can build extraordinary lives and careers. You can download the eBook now, click here.
Take immediate action now: make space for two hours in your diary right away. It's time to empower yourself as a strategic thinker.