What is Strategic Thinking?

In simplistic terms, strategic thinking involves long-term planning for the future. Strategic thinkers:

  • Hold a holistic view of their organization’s ecosystem and stakeholders.
  • Anticipate major shifts in the marketplace and identify emerging opportunities.
  • Know how to work within resource limitations and make tough calls to reach the team’s goals.
  • Create and inspire people to work towards a vision of what’s possible.
  • Don’t stand still. They are constantly moving their team towards ambitious targets, experimenting, and making informed bets.

The Harvard Business Review describes strategic thinking this way: “Strategic people create connections between ideas, plans, and people that others fail to see.” The key to becoming a more strategic thinker is to learn how to channel your thoughtfulness to work for you, instead of against you.

Strategic thinkers challenge their own assumptions and look at challenges from a number of different perspectives before deciding on the best path forward. One great way to do this is with the classic six thinking hats methods:

  • White Hat: With this thinking hat, you focus on what you can learn from the available data, current and past trends.
  • Red Hat: You look at problems through the lens of feelings (yours and others), using your intuition and emotion.    
  • Black Hat: Is the hat of caution. Look for weak points and think about how to create contingency plans to counter them.
  • Yellow Hat: Helps you look at the bright side. What is the most optimistic viewpoint?
  • Green Hat: Uses creativity and leans into freewheeling, out-of-the-box ideas.
  • Blue Hat: This hat represents processes and prompts you to bring order and structure to your thoughts.

Are you a strategic thinker?

When evaluating whether or not you’re a strategic thinker, consider whether key people in your organization — such as your boss and senior leadership — think so. To get ahead in your career, it’s critically important to ensure that the people around you perceive you as leadership material. One key to achieving that is communicating in ways that demonstrate your strategic mind. You can’t just think strategically, you also need to speak strategically. Here are some ways to do it:

Elevate your perspective. Instead of focusing on specifics, describe the broader landscape and articulate the bigger-picture narrative. Use language that shapes the context in which the tactical details can then be explored. This also helps to align stakeholders, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Be forward-looking. Strategic thinkers see emerging challenges and opportunities. By communicating a forward-looking stance, you demonstrate your capacity to help the organization develop long-term strategy.

Anticipate potent impacts. Don’t just make decisions; assess and communicate their broader potential effects. Showcase your critical thinking ability by highlighting possible outcomes or unintended consequences. Doing so shows that you value thorough evaluation over immediate action.

Connect the dots. Show you look beyond surface events to the deeper picture of systems and interconnections and that you recognize their importance. This demonstrates that you have an integrative and holistic thought process.

Simplify the complicated. Strategic thinkers can break down complex situations in simple yet powerful terms. By distilling complicated issues into their essentials, you indicate masterful comprehension of the topic.

Use analogies and metaphors. Analogies and metaphors help to communicate strategic ideas in relatable ways. Communicating in this way shows that you can translate strategic jargon into everyday language, fostering broader understanding and alignment.

Stimulate strategic dialogue. When engaging with colleagues in strategic conversations, ask reflective questions such as “How does this decision echo our company’s foundational values?” This creates an environment where strategic thinking is collective and prompts discussion that will help you refine ideas and encourage others to adopt a strategic mindset.

Show you are informed. Your strategic insights will be more impactful when grounded in current realities. Making meaningful observations proves you are informed about the evolving landscape, an essential strategic thinking capability.

Practice strategic listening. Strategic thinking is best when it incorporates disparate views. Highlight your ability to listen closely and actively to others, enhancing your reputation as a strategy collaborator, enriching the discussion, and activating the group’s collective intelligence.

Seek feedback. After strategic conversations, show you are focused on learning by asking for feedback from others to demonstrate your commitment to growth and improvement.

In summary, leaders must be strong strategic thinkers and communicators. Those who can speak about strategy as well as they formulate it are the ones who will rise to the top.


Harvard Business Review (2023, October 31) Brenda Steinberg and Michael D. Watkins: 10 Ways to Prove You’re a Strategic Thinker
Forbes (2020, June 1) Melody Wilding: How to Be a More Strategic Thinker