Critical Thinking and Strategy: The Foundations of an Effective Leader

Who do people turn to when they donít know what to do or how to act? Who is the one that decides how to move forward or how to handle a situation? A great leader is someone who not only knows how to handle now but how to think and act strategically while looking to the future. 
People are chosen for executive positions because they can not only handle the day-to-day, but can also evaluate the current state of affairs, pinpoint problem spots, and develop better processes to improve the business overall. These executives and leaders must be able to gather the right data - from their teamís output and sales, or even their competition and the latest trends - and use it to make necessary, innovative change.

The most critical leadership skills are:

  • The ability to prioritize what is truly important. Real leaders know they canít put out fires all day and still move forward.

  • Possessing an innovation mindset. Most of a leaderís ability to problem-solve and plan strategically will come from his or her ability to come up with creative solutions to age-old problems.

  • Understanding raw data and how it affects the team / department / company.

  • The ability to balance short-term and long-term decisions with their forward momentum.

Obviously, not everyone can be a leader. Some who are capable of leading have the interpersonal skills needed, yet lack the ability to think and act strategically. But that doesnít mean you canít develop these skills!

To become more tactical and strategic in your leadership process, you must cultivate:

  • Your concept of the future. Most ďeverydayĒ leaders know the struggle just to get through this day and know that something always comes up to prevent you from working on tomorrow. This thinking has to be changed; you have to find the time to look forward, plan for the future, and start implementing small changes every day to get to the end result youíre seeking.

  • Your understanding of trends, signs, and red flags. You know those fires you have to put out every day? Odds are, there were signs that those things would go wrong. On a grander scale, there are also signs that things are not well within your team, your department, your company. Noticing signs like technical glitches, decreased sales, gaining competition, etc. will help you notify and plan for what is actually happening and will happen down the road.

  • Flexibility and delegation. As a leader or executive, you cannot do everything or lead every charge that moves your company forward. You have to be willing to try something new, let someone else take the reins, and most of all, be willing to try again in a different way if it doesn't go as planned. Fluidity in leadership means you can slip past brick walls that other people crash into.

Most of all, a true leader is going to be someone who thrives on the challenge and who is excited by the possibilities the future holds. Leaders do not give up when things get tough, and they encourage their team and their company to innovate, create, and move forward. Strategy and critical thinking are vital for any executive leader; without them, you are simply moving with the current rather than directing it.