Building a Strategic Mindset
“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”
Jeroen De Flander
Starting a business from scratch requires you to wear many hats initially. The challenge is to know when to remove those hats and hand them to someone else. Giving up control of specific tasks and trusting others to care for your new enterprise as much as you do can be difficult. But it is necessary. As the quote says, “you cannot be everything to everyone.” Ultimately you need to be the captain of the ship, not the entire crew. And that means keeping a weather eye on where you are going, not the nuts and bolts of how you are going to get there.
Maintaining a strategic mindset will keep your company on course through good times and bad. While you can’t predict the future, creating and executing a strategy will allow you to make your way through them.
A good example is in football. Over the years, key members of the coaching staff have moved into the skyboxes overlooking the field. This gives the coach a total view of everything that is happening on the field. It allows them to execute the game plan, regardless of what’s happening on the sidelines, in the locker room or even on the field.
In business, a lot of new owners want to be on the field. They want to be in the trenches, making sure every play is successful. This, of course, isn’t the way to play the game or win the championship. A strategic mindset requires that you call the plays from the booth, not the huddle.
Building a strategic mindset will give you the skills and mental toughness to make the tough calls.
When starting a business, it’s easy to spend a lot of time in the weeds. The details consume your entire day, often to the point where you stop seeing the big picture. This can cause you to play it safe and become risk-averse because you worry about what can go wrong rather than lean into the opportunities you would see from a broader view.
A strategic mindset isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something that you perfect over time through practice and mindfulness.
In its simplest form, a strategic mindset allows you to:
- Maintain a holistic view of your organization and its stakeholders.
- Anticipate and act on significant shifts in the marketplace before they happen, so you can take advantage of new opportunities and avoid disruptions.
- Know how to maximize your resources, identify limitations and make the difficult calls required to meet your goals.
- Create and inspire people to embrace and work toward your vision for what’s possible.
- Rapidly prototype new ideas, experimenting and taking measured risks that are aligned with your strategic vision and overarching goals.
- Connect the dots between ideas, actions and people that others fail to see. Your ability to see patterns in data and the marketplace allows you to be original, creative and effective in adapting to any condition.
In short, a strategic mindset helps you channel your thoughts and resulting actions, so they work for you rather than against you. Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum or on the fly. They are made with thoughtfulness, due diligence and a watchful eye on the ultimate goal.
You can’t think of the big picture if you’re continually fighting fires or stuck in meetings all day. It’s easy to fall into this trap, and you have a lot of company – 96% of all leaders say finding time is the biggest challenge they face in increasing their strategic thinking.
You need to fight this tendency continually. It’s easy for scope creep to invade your day. After all, you’re the ultimate decision-maker and a lot of people will turn to you for the final answer they could provide themselves if there were empowered to do so.
But you need to guard your time jealousy and take control of your calendar. Block off time for strategy and strategic thinking. Eliminate meetings that don’t add value or make the best use of your expertise or input.
Even in the early stages of starting a business, you need to find others who can help you get the work done. You don’t want to become the worker bee. You want others to execute the tactics that will achieve the goals that support your strategy.
This isn’t to say that you should shirk your responsibilities or let others handle tasks you are exceptionally skilled at or passionate about. But you do want to open up sizeable gaps in your calendar so that you have the time to shift into a strategic frame of mind so that you can address longer-term needs and opportunities.
This means, of course, that you need to trust the people you task with decision-making. It’s easier to build this trust if you give them specific objectives and an understanding of what success looks like. It’s like being in the booth at the big game, giving the quarterback the play that makes the first down or ends up with a First and 10 in the Red Zone. Every task doesn’t have to be a touchdown. It just needs to accomplish its intended goal.
This is what leadership is all about.