Strategic thinking…The topic comes up again and again in leadership. The ability to see and understand the “whole” picture is in great demand. Marketingweek agrees. In a recently released study, Anatomy of a Leader, strategic thinking was identified as the most sought after attribute for marketing leaders. [I will go one step further and say it is, at least in my experience, equally important for any leader, no matter the function.]

Why the emphasis on strategic thinking? I think it is because of its near neglect in leadership development. Modern education and even our culture have something to do with it. The fact is we value and reward specialization. Professionals have learned to make entire industries just on nuance. (Consider the fine line drawn between leadership and management, and yet both are mutually dependent.) Analysis becomes the predominant mode of thinking. This focus on breaking ideas down into smaller elements, on detail and nuance creates tacticians, specialists of detail, tactics and techniques.

’What is perhaps surprising is that more marketing leaders believe that technical proficiency has simultaneously become more important. I suspect that this relates to being literate and staying fresh with regards to all things digital. However, there is a risk of being a jack of all trades and a master of none.’

This near exclusive focus on detail and analysis neglects developing a mindset required of strategic thinking: understanding the general and synthesis. Strategy is about seeing the parts and the whole. It is seeing the trees and understanding that they belong in a forest. The mental process of synthesis is critical here as it is the means of connecting elements into a larger picture.

Why is this important? It is expected leaders achieve their missions or assignments. Good leaders, however, help drive their team as well as play a major part in the larger business function. They make their bosses life easier, enabling them to actualize their ROI. This requires seeing outside the borders of your team and direct influence; it requires helping influence and support other teams and leaders, even those outside your expertise.

One more thing about strategic thinking… As we’ve said before at EDGE Challenges, the ROI of leadership is improvisation. The only way to improvise as you execute strategy is too understand the strategy. That requires thinking beyond what is asked of you, as in specific directives assigned to you. Rather, it is being able to determine and assess – on your own, and without prodding – tasks, goals or objectives that should be in the strategy but are not. This is type of strategic thinking that will give you an edge as a leader.