The eighth critical skill for great strategic thinking is seeking advice.
Great strategists rarely make strategic decisions by themselves. They usually prefer to get input from people who are closer to the issues. They also highly value the input of people who may simply have much different perspectives from their own. This is listening, but it’s much more than that.
Seek advice is a critical skill for leadership.
Getting input from others means you are assembling your best decisions from information that you know other people have. Furthermore, you are considering other perspectives on the issues in order to have a better grasp of your strategic thinking.
Its hard to recognize that other people have information you need, but do not have.
This is because we have lived for far too long with the myth of wise loners making better decisions. We partly have this myth because dysfunctional groups often do make worse decisions than individuals. Group think is a term that has long been used for this problem. We need to remember, however, that less useful traits – dominance, talking loudly and quickly, or abusing authority – can skew group decision making. Ultimately, the most forceful person in a group, rather than the best thinker in the group can skew the decision.
Great leaders are great listeners and are often much more effective and successful.
This effect actually goes much deeper than that. Research tells us that the highest performing individuals do things that help them remember that they don’t know everything. In Zen Buddhism, the phrase that people use to describe this is “the beginner’s mind”. Almost every great innovator has had enough expertise to do what they do very well. But they also have some way of remembering that they don’t know everything there is to know.
One way we can all keep that mindset is to seek advice from someone we respect.
This can be a mentor, a coach, a peer advisory group, or anyone we would expect to understand some of the issues we face. Advisors do not have to be expert at the same things we are expert in. Though they do have to be willing and able to share different perspectives that may enrich our understanding of the issues we wrestle with.
In some circles, when you seek advice, others may see this as weakness, but it surely is not.
Quite the contrary – strong leaders and great strategic thinkers make their weakest decisions when they act completely alone and fail to get input from others. This is not because we need the strength others may offer to back us up – though getting advice does bring that. It’s rather because it is impossible to consider every perspective on an issue alone.
If you seek advice from someone who thinks exactly as you do, your strategic decisions will be weaker.
Great leaders test their strategic thinking in the crucible of disagreement. Without some form of push back, you’ll find your best ideas and your weakest ideas will look the same to you. Thus the quality of your thinking will suffer.
To get good stress testing of your ideas, bounce them off of someone who often disagrees with you.
Without question, this is something we encourage when assigning homework to the strategic planning team. While some think I do this to save time in the meetings, the biggest benefit is in the output. When two or more people with widely different viewpoints make decisions, they are inevitably sturdier and more robust than ideas from a single individual.
Where do you get your input, and who do you seek advice from when making strategic decisions? I’d love to hear any stories of things that have led to great successes for you. And – of course – if you’d like assistance developing these skills, please reach out to me for workshops, coaching and consulting assistance. If you’d like to learn more about getting advice and more specifically about strategic thinking, Simplified Strategic Planning is a great place to start. For great ideas on how to improve the quality of your planning, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to take advantage of the Early Bird discount below.
Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.