Center for Simplified Strategic Planning

Strategic Thinking: 11 Critical Skills Needed

By J. Glenn Ebersole

Strategic thinking is a process that defines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others. Strategic thinking is an extremely effective and valuable tool. One can apply strategic thinking to arrive at decisions that can be related to your work or personal life. Strategic thinking involves developing an entire set of critical skills. What are those critical skills? I offer the following list of critical skills that the best strategic thinkers possess and use every day.

Critical Skill #1: Strategic thinkers have the ability to use the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of their brain. This skill takes practice as well as confidence and can be tremendously valuable.

Critical Skill #2: They have the ability to develop a clearly defined and focused business vision and personal vision. They are skilled at both thinking with a strategic purpose as well as creating a visioning process. They have both skills and they use them to complement each other.

Critical Skill #3: They have the ability to clearly define their objectives and develop a strategic action plan with each objective broken down into tasks and each task having a list of needed resources and a specific timeline.

Critical Skill #4: They have the ability to design flexibility into their plans by creating some benchmarks in their thinking to review progress. Then they use those benchmarks to as a guide and to recognize the opportunity to revise their plans as needed. They have an innate ability to be proactive and anticipate change, rather than being reactive to changes after they occur.

Critical Skill #5: They are amazingly aware and perceptive. They will recognize internal and external clues, often subtle, to help guide future direction and realize opportunities for them and their companies or organizations. Great strategic thinkers will listen, hear and understand what is said and will read and observe whatever they can so that they will have very helpful and strategic information to guide them. Strategic thinkers often have those \"Ah Ha\" experiences while on vacation, walking, sitting and relaxing or during many other activities because they see or hear something that resonates and because they are so aware and perceptive.

Critical Skill #6: They are committed lifelong learners and learn from each of their experiences. They use their experiences to enable them to think better on strategic issues.

Critical Skill #7: The best and greatest strategic thinkers take time out for themselves. Their time out may be in the form of a retreat (some prefer to call it an \"advance\" since it \"advances\" their thinking\"); a walk in a special environment; relaxing in a comfortable chair in the lobby of an historic hotel; or an afternoon in a quiet place with a blank sheet of paper or their lap top computer with \"their thinking caps\" on.

Critical Skill #8: They are committed to and seek advice from others. They may use a coach, a mentor, a peer advisory group or some other group that they can confide in and offer up ideas for feedback.

Critical Skill #9: They have the ability to balance their tremendous amount of creativity with a sense of realism and honesty about what is achievable in the longer term. This ability to balance does not deter them in their thinking. Sometimes they refer to themselves as realistic optimists.

Critical Skill #10: They have the ability to be non-judgmental and they do not allow themselves to be held back or restricted by judging their own thinking or the thinking of others when ideas are initially being developed and shared. This is especially true during any \"brainstorming\" exercises to ensure a flow of great ideas. There will be time to test the ideas AFTER the \"brainstorming\" is concluded.

Critical Skill #11: They have the ability to be patient and to not rush to conclusions and judgments. Great ideas and thoughts require time to develop into great successes in the future to reach your defined vision.

The greatest and most successful organizations in the world, over many years and decades, would think ahead and encourage great strategic thinking at least somewhere in their business plans. However, the challenge to that in too many organizations today is the \"self-centered,\" \"greedy,\" and too often \"unethical\" focus on the short-term measures of the current year's bonus and dividend. A sustainable successful future requires much more, no matter how big or small your business is, and a major requirement is strategic thinking. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you develop these eleven (11) critical skills of a strategic thinker to use in your business and personal life to ensure success.

Robert Bradford is President and CEO at the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning. He can be reached at

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© Copyright 2014 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI -- Reprint permission granted with full attribution.