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by Katherine Bond

Perhaps aware that we’re in volatile and uncertain times and facing some global seismic shifts that will impact us all (think AI and climate change), the need to look outwards and more broadly is more important than ever. And it could mean rethinking what this involves – not just learning and networking within industries, but going far beyond that.

If you’re a leader – senior leader or not – what practical things can you do to ensure you’re looking ‘beyond and long’ effectively?

Step 1 – Create the time – Challenge yourself to be less in the detail

It’s fair to say that most leaders we work with are too much ‘in the detail’ – by their own admission. They say they lack time and space to think strategically and plan for the long term. There might be many reasons for that, but if you’re a leader, the chances are that at least some of this is related to your own need (and habit) of being the decision maker, knowing the detail, and having control and thorough oversight of what is going on. Challenge your thinking and behaviour here – where should you be spending your time? What can others do and take responsibility for that frees you up?

Step 2 – Create a plan

Some leaders we work with categorise themselves as “not very good strategic thinkers”. While the Big 5 Personality theorists might agree that there’s natural variation in our ability here, thinking broader and longer is a skill and a behaviour – so with focus and effort we can all shift our thinking. Spend more time reading, listening to podcasts, etc, going to conferences and events (in your industry and outside of it) – decide what % of your time you want and need to devote to this, and make a plan for this. Simply saying you’ll make more effort to do this isn’t enough – create a plan for what you’ll do and be clear for why you think it’ll add value. Collaborate with colleagues – if you’re part of a team (which we’re pretty sure you will be!), planning should be a collective endeavour.

Step 3 – Optimise your learning

If you’re spending time consuming content, or engaging in discussions, do something with it! Capture the headlines, what you’ve learned and what relevance it has for the business. What are the ‘so whats’? What more would you like to find out about the topic?

Remember as well that there are other ways to learn and start to think ‘long and beyond’ that consuming content and going to events. Tools such as PESTEL and scenario planning exercises are great vehicles to get you and your leadership team thinking differently and broadening your horizons.

Step 4 – Share and brainstorm

As you’ve started flexing your strategic thinking muscles and are spending more time thinking ‘long and beyond’, consider how you’re going to effectively bring your insight back to the business and shape its strategic direction. There are a few elements to this. Be clear about what the critical and relevant insight is to the business and the suggested implications or next steps. Be brief, provide headlines and the ‘so what’, but provide more content for anyone who wants it.

For leadership teams, ensure that you’ve got an effective vehicle for sharing learning – a standing item on your meeting agenda as an example. Think about sharing down and across – as a leader, you’ll want those you lead to also think ‘long and beyond’ by sharing insight, leading collaborative strategic discussions and encouraging them to spend time out of the business learning and networking.

So, as a leader, if future-proofing your business is important, we’d suggest you prioritise thinking ‘long and beyond’ – and reap the rewards.