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Strategic thinking as a leadership imperative

In one of my previous instalments on “Why executive coaching is a critical part of the CEO journey”, I pointed out that not all CEOs come to the table with the full set of skills they need to lead their companies to last for the next decade. It is from this premise that I suggested executive coaching as an appropriate intervention mechanism to aid CEOs bridge some capacity gaps that might be existing in their leadership and management endeavours.

By Robert Mandeya

One of the skills that executive coaches should include in leadership coaching is that of strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking, seeing the bigger picture or thinking outside the box is a requisite skill leaders should be endowed with if they are to cope with the rigours of leading organisations and people. To this end competent executive coaches should present their clients (CEOs) with tools that develop their strategic thinking skills.

So as a leader, what steps can you take to be a more effective strategic thinker? I will in this instalment present some of the issues for consideration by leaders which help develop their strategic thinking abilities.

Aim high

The first way in which you can start to think strategically is to aim high. Too often when it comes to strategic thinking, people stay in safe areas and fail to fully exploit the real potential of their creativity. Aiming high requires you to broaden your thinking beyond current boundaries and think the unthinkable.

Developing leadership capability

Being successful as a leader requires one to continually develop self-leadership capability. This might include developing a particular skill such as presentation, some new knowledge like tax laws, new behaviour like listening more actively or an attribute like overcoming procrastination. Continued development helps boost one’s self-belief and gives one the confidence to think the unthinkable.

Ability to select risks carefully

Successful leaders take risks. It is important not to confuse risk taking with being reckless. Selecting risks carefully is about looking at the options rigorously and weighing up the options and choosing what on balance look like the best risks based on the information that you have. In this case, risk assessment tools would help executive coaches to develop this skill in their clients.


Being courageous requires one to consider one’s mindset. Are you someone who always thinks about what might not work or someone who looks at possibilities? Those in the possibilities category think the unthinkable and then are bold and courageous enough to make it happen. This aspect can be dealt with through self-awareness tools.


When we work on something we get better and better. For example, when we first go to the gym we might struggle to run for any length of time but when we keep working on nurturing our technique, stamina building, etc, we start to get even better. Creativity is no different. We need to nurture it. We can do that by reading, learning, listening to podcasts, attending events, to name just a few.
Tackle the barriers
We all have barriers or obstacles that get in the way of thinking big. You might have certain messages at home as a child, experiences, setbacks that have shaped your thinking about what is and what is possible. Find out what these barriers are for you and start taking action to address them.

De-cluttering the mind

Strategic thinking requires space in your mind to come up with the ideas, the visions, the strategies and goals. You can only do that if you have the space and capacity in your head to do it.

Please note that strategic thinking is not about your academic prowess but more of a common sense thing. We are in a world of paradoxes where people acquire more degrees but less common sense. We are in a society which is more in pursuit of information and knowledge whilst deficient in transformative wisdom. Executive coaching should enhance transformative wisdom in leaders. Here is what Professor. Abletor Sedofia from University of Ghana says:

“Academic excellence is overrated! Did I just say that? Oh yes, I said it. Being top of your class does not necessarily guarantee that you will make more money than everybody else. The best graduating law student does not necessarily become the best lawyer. The fact is life requires more than the ability to understand a concept, memorise it and reproduce it in an exam. School rewards people for their memory. Life rewards people for their imagination. School rewards caution, life rewards daring. School hails those who live by the rules. Life exalts those who break the rules and set new ones.”

I find these remarks by Prof Albetor quite profound. At the end of the day, your effectiveness as a strategic thinker requires you not just to do things but also to get into the right frame of mind. The current economic challenges require strategic thinkers who can spur their organisations out of the turbulent economic malaise. In the final analysis think less of becoming an excellent academic but think more of becoming an excellent person. Make the world your classroom!

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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