Becoming a more strategic leader is not a change that can be made overnight. It requires a shift in mindset and behavior, which, when who are busy fighting fires every day, you might not make time to adjust. Additionally, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you’ve been focused primarily on day-to-day, tactical activity, what does it even mean to shift to more strategic thinking?
If you’re committed to becoming a more strategic leader, the first step is to expand your professional network. Step outside of your current inner circle and begin to build strategic relationships with others at senior levels, in different departments and outside of your organization. Here’s why:
Relationships offer important context.
While most of us intuitively understand that our work is connected to the work of those around us, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. If you only see what’s right in front of you, you will never fully understand how your work fits into the larger whole. And it’s an understanding of that larger whole – its purpose, goals, challenges, etc. – that influence your ability to be strategic.
Building relationships with others who represent different levels and sides of the organization provides you with greater visibility to patterns and trends that are happening around you. The ability to notice these patterns allows you to more easily anticipate change and respond accordingly. Without this visibility, you’ll be perpetually in reactive mode with no ability to proactively prepare for change.
External relationships provide even greater insight into the larger landscape. Outside contacts can share important perspectives on opportunities and threats that may lie ahead in your industry. This information can be incredibly valuable as you set the short and long-term direction for yourself and your team.
Relationships provide access to additional resources.
Despite our best efforts, we can’t do everything on our own. Even full teams can’t do everything on their own. There will always be skills, expertise and resources that fall outside of our own domains. By building strategic relationships with colleagues outside of your group, you gain access to a new set of resources that can help you succeed.
When you build strategic relationships, you have an opportunity to share information about your goals, identify areas of overlap, and collaboratively establish joint initiatives. Rather than re-invent the wheel, you may find that another group has already achieved your goal and can share their resources with you. Or, if you share a goal, you now have the ability to establish a more strategic approach to executing that goal with even greater resources available to you.
Relationships increase your personal influence.
Much of leadership involves selling your ideas and inspiring others to support you and your agenda. To be effective in doing so, others need to believe in you and your vision. This is difficult to achieve when you’re not well known. People fundamentally prefer those that they know, like and trust. Without strong relationships, your ability to influence others is weakened.
Strategic relationships also allow you to strengthen your ideas before positioning them. When you have trusted colleagues outside of your team who can provide external insight and feedback, you have an opportunity to anticipate potential objections and strengthen your messaging accordingly. You also have the ability to improve the overall relevance and impact of your ideas by ensuring they align with overall organizational goals.
In a world where time is more precious than ever, it’s easy to assume that your best approach is to keep your head down and focus on your own work. By intentionally creating time for relationship building, however, you’ll be a far more effective and strategic leader.
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