How to think strategically

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Think Strategically

At a recent Extreme Ownership Muster, our two-day leadership conference, a participant asked Jocko: “How often should I be thinking strategically, and how often should I be thinking tactically?”

Tactical vs. Strategic

In the military, the word “strategic” refers to long-term, overarching goals, while the word “tactical” means the near-term goals and immediate tasks at hand. The question was directed toward a common leadership dilemma—it’s easy to get sucked into the details and focus on the tactical goals and immediate tasks, and lose sight of the bigger, strategic goals that advance a team forward in the long-term.  

Every Tactical Thing You Do Should Advance Your Strategic Goals

Jocko’s answer to the question was simple: “You should be thinking strategically ALL THE TIME.” Everything you do tactically should be furthering your strategic goals.

You will have to execute on the tactical issues to get tasks done. But if you think strategically all the time, you will be able to prioritize and focus on the most important tactical goals to advance your strategic goals that will ultimately accomplish the mission.

Stay detached
In order to think strategically, you must detach. It’s human nature that we dive into the details of a problem, which means we often get lost in the weeds and lose sight of the strategic picture. You can’t let that happen. Stay detached and think strategically ALL THE TIME.

Real-World example:

“Mike wants to send out a survey to our clients and get their feedback on the service we provide, as well as see what other services they might be interested in that we could add,” the manager said. “That’s a waste of time. We already know what they are going to say. We don’t need to do that.”

The manager was a squared-away leader who led a successful business. She wanted things done her way. But she also expressed frustration. She felt like she had to do everything to keep the business going, and didn’t get enough help from her team, whom she needed to step up.

“You said you would like to see Mike and others on your team step up and take more ownership, correct?” I asked.

“Definitely,” the manager responded.

“Is there risk in letting Mike survey your clients?” I asked.

“Not really,” she responded. “But time is precious, and I just think there are better ways to utilize our time.”

“Tactically, that might be true,” I said. “But strategically, you are trying to empower Mike and the rest of your team to take more ownership of things. To do that, you need to be open to their ideas.”

“How much time, realistically, do you think the survey will take?” I asked.

“Not much,” the manager admitted. “Maybe an hour or two at most.”

“If there isn’t any harm in it,” I continued, “I’d let Mike run his survey. You may get some good information back from clients after all. More importantly, when you show Mike that you are open to his ideas, he will be encouraged to offer more ideas and take more ownership, as will others on your team. An extra hour or two is a small price to pay, tactically. Strategically, this will allow you to stop looking down and in into the details of your business and start looking up and out at the larger, strategic goals for your business’s long-term growth and success.”

For Action:

Write out a list of your tactical, near-term goals for the week or month. Then, write out a list of your long-term, strategic goals. Make sure that your tactical goals are moving forward toward accomplishing your strategic goals. Build in time in the schedule each week to detach and assess your progress on your strategic goals. EXECUTE.

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