After being in a job for a while, many of us set our sights on the next phase of our careers. For some, that means getting a promotion. Others seek new, more challenging responsibilities.
The motivations for this goal include ambition and a desire to achieve more. The skills required include mastering our technical or functional skills. And naturally, we must produce high-quality work output to get a promotion or more exciting and challenging responsibilities. But these elements are just the beginning of this goal-attainment journey. These attributes are now table stakes – high proficiency and continuous learning of our technical skills, the right positive mindset, and a commitment to completing our responsibilities exceptionally well.
Work today is not about completing manual tasks. It is about thinking creatively to define new opportunities, ways of achieving goals or doing business, problem-solving, and decision-making. Our managers expect us all to be a self-starter and self-guided.
We need to know our goals, objectives, or purpose and then set our self-defined path to achieve them. Those who need to be told what steps to take to accomplish their responsibilities often lag behind their peers who define their accomplishment path. If you recently graduated from college, this blog post may be helpful.
Individuals who are advancing in their careers demonstrate proficient soft skills from strategic thinking to demonstrating strategic thinking, collaborative behaviors, and positive mindsets. Here we will focus on strategic thinking and demonstrating it to help kickstart your goal. One thing to keep in mind, these skills take time to develop. There is no immediate answer to being a strategic thinker. Just like you invested time and effort to acquire your functional job skills, you will need to commit to learning more about these skills and practicing development exercises to build or strengthen them.
The foundational skills of strategic thinking and demonstrating it are:
Let’s take a look at each.
Focus. The underlying focus element is active listening, which few of us actually do. When you Actively Listen at work, you will pick up on opportunities, issues, or problems that others overlook, because they are distracted, preoccupied with other tasks, or holding on to what they want to say versus listening to what is being said. The knowledge you gain through active listening will give you a leg up on defining how to capitalize on opportunities and how to fix problems. You will gain a deeper understanding of the health and needs of your company or organization and accelerate your business acumen with strong Active Listening.
Intellectual Humility. The ability to grow, learn, and produce high-quality work requires us to separate our ego, or self-worth, from our intellect. Intellectually humble individuals know they are smart but also realize they may not always be right. We need to be open-minded to feedback on the ideas, recommendations, or opinions we share to enhance them further and produce something superior to what we originally conceived. Input from others helps us evolve our thoughts and ideas to deliver superior-quality work.
Critical thinking. Critical thinking, also known as System 2 thinking, is a slow, logical, effortful, conscious process where reason dominates. It is powered by focus and is the anthesis of our typical, everyday System 1 thinking, which is automatic, uses little or no effort, is quick, instinctive, unconscious, and sometimes emotional. When we put in the effort to think about a topic deeply, evaluating different opinions on it versus reacting quickly, we deepen our knowledge of it. This more focused thinking approach strengthens problem-solving by leading us to the root cause of issues and problems, leading to sounder decision-making on how to move forward. Critical thinking reduces mistakes and wasted resources of both time and money.
Problem-Solving. The key to successful problem-solving is not accepting the first cause discovered, which is rarely the true culprit of a problem. And as you just heard, effective problem-solving requires critical thinking, where we consider a problem from different perspectives versus reacting and attempting to fix the problem after identifying the first potential source.
Effective Communication. Proficient communicators demonstrate strategic thinking by clearly presenting a problem or opportunity, outlining the impacts on the business, and presenting creative solutions to fix the problem or take advantage of the opportunity. They know communicating effectively requires time in advance to gather data, formulate an understandable story, and prepare.
And then, finally, take Initiative. To successfully demonstrate initiative, you need to understand when and how to do it. You may hear many great, exciting ideas, but they may not contribute to your job or the organization’s current goals. Individuals who successfully take initiative know how to analyze the benefits of different ideas and determine if and how they contribute to achieving current goals, so they act on the most valuable ideas. Active listening, intellectual humility, critical thinking, and problem-solving fuel this knowledge.
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