loader image

Your ability to think strategically is the most important leadership trait you can have–more important than your innovativeness, influence, communication skills, or ability to get things done.

According to 60,000 managers from more than 140 countries, it makes you one of the most highly effective leaders. This does not mean that other traits are unimportant, but if you want your team to excel, you need to share your strategic thinking skills with them.

To understand how you can do this, my colleague Charmian Hall and I interviewed 15 experts anywhere from university professors to CEOs who have thought deeply about this challenge. Here is our checklist from this panel of brilliant minds for what you and your team can do now to raise their strategic thinking capacity:


1. Connect your people with what matters. Entrepreneurship guru Michael Gerber suggests you ask questions like, “What is the most important thing to you? What do you want your life to be about?” Only by linking personal goals with the organization’s goals will you fully unleash your team’s strategic capacity.

2. Focus on competencies not job skills. Vice Chairman and Managing Principal of Deloitte LLP Cathy Benko’s research shows that routine, repetitive jobs are being replaced by non-routine ones. This means we need our people to build competencies that translate instead of specific job skills.

3. Build them with projects they don’t keep. Hector Aquilar, CEO of GE Central America and former chief HR officer of GE Latin America, noted that GE spends considerable time building strategic capability into the culture of the organization. One trick: every GE employee takes immediate responsibility of a special project. They develop solutions and sell recommendations.

“In our organization, everyone is accustomed to looking at how we get better. Everyone is trained as a business person,” he explained.


4. Create think time. Every expert acknowledged the tension between day-to-day demands and time to think. One way out is to give your people structured time to stop and think. Matt Reilly, senior managing director of Accenture Management Consulting, North America, and Matt Greeley, CEO of Brightidea, both advocate formal business-idea competitions. But don’t stop there. Hold one-hour brainstorms for your team to solve the week’s most pressing business challenge. Hold monthly half-day “brain workouts.”

5. Put up the periscope. A critical habit of highly strategic teams is what Michael Feiner, former senior vice president and chief people officer of PepsiCo, calls “putting up your periscope.” He looks to see if leaders “look outside their silos and sectors” to understand trends and practices they might apply. As Greeley pointed out, what will most change your market often emanates from unexpected sources. AT&T never expected they’d compete with Microsoft, but then Microsoft bought Skype.

6. Avoid outsourcing your thinking. The quick fix to solving strategic challenges is to bring in outside consultants. Turn to that crutch too often and your people will forget how to walk themselves. Instead force your team members to think for themselves. Feiner suggests you need three kinds of leadership: operational, people, and thought. Don’t give up on thought leadership!


Finally, you want to arm your people with the right tools to perform the practices. They key is to give them clarity.

7. The North Star. As Jessica Amortegui, director of global talent development at VMware told us, “The formal top-down approach where strategy is rolled down to execute no longer works in this [fast-paced] environment.” She believes a more flexible philosophy that allows companies to pivot quickly as conditions change is emerging. Executives can provide a guideline for what “true north” is, but it is up to each business to define a strategic path to get there.

8. The winning formula. Gerber advocates that finding a repeatable formula produces predictable results, the way McDonald’s has a proven operating manual for a successful restaurant. You don’t want your people to blindly follow the past, but you want to show them the key activities they must stick to in order to maintain a competitive advantage. When your people know what makes you great, and they stick to those differentiators, they know they are going to win, so they play with confidence and calmness.

9. The vocabulary. The words you use are tools that will shape your organization. Benko, for example, avoids the term “human resources,” preferring instead the term adopted by Hollywood: “talent.” It communicates people are unique, they get on stage and perform, they move from role to role and are not defined by those roles. Gerber similarly suggests you think carefully about the vocabulary you use because it shapes the reality in which your people think.



“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?