For the first part of my career (first 10 years post-graduation), I defined myself as very unstrategic. Whiteboards, markers, “blue sky thinking” and brain storming sessions bored me, because I saw it as keeping me away from my tasks, my real work. I was so focused on doing, which in my mind created value (and it probably did for my clients) that I could think of nothing worse than time wasted in front of a whiteboard or writing strategic plans. Even in diagnostic assessments I rated high on operational tasks, low on strategic thinking. I wore it like a badge of honour. “Don’t think, do” was my mantra.
At almost 30 years of age I had a baby and I got divorced in the same year. I grew up, quickly. Then I became strategic.
Shortly following my parental leave, the then Chief Operations Officer (a key client of mine) shared an observation with me. She commented that I had changed since I supported her when she was in the Chief Information Officer role. I no longer led with textbook answers. I no longer had to be right or perfect in my responses. Taking a question on notice was appreciated because the response I came back with was richer and of higher value for her and her team. I was engaging in more strategic thinking and it was being seen and felt by my clients.
I felt more comfortable than ever sitting in ambiguity and exploring complexity without necessarily coming up with an answer straight away. I learned that slowing down to speed up served me well. It reduced the need for re-work because of a lack of strategic thinking. I learned that the value I brought to my internal clients as a Business Partner was not my speed, but my ability to look at an issue holistically and explore it from all perspectives before acting. This enabled me to be proactive and look ahead when my clients were in the detail. It gave me foresight and the desire to look at an issue from all perspectives. I asked more questions than what I answered to gain a deeper understanding. This was a pivotal point in my career as a Business Partner.
I went on to lead teams and I took on Executive and Board roles. The lessons I learned in those years of my transition from operational to strategic thinking have served me in all roles and continue to.
If you are daunted by strategic thinking and define yourself as not having it; challenge your mindset. You are likely to be more strategic than you think. Once we value something and we can see the benefit, we can adopt it as a preference. In personality diagnostic testing, I now score high on strategic thinking. I think it was always there- I just didn’t lead with it.
Strategic thinking is the holy grail for Business Partners- it helps you see what your clients may not. This increases your value proposition as a Business Partner, and it enhances your ability to advise and connect with your clients.