A good leader needs to constantly focus on the “big-picture” so that important decisions and actions can be made. Use this simple and effective thought-process to lead with a strategic perspective:
- When you observe an issue, ask yourself what is the consequence of that issue.
- Then ask yourself what is the consequence of that consequence.
- Repeat step 2 until you can’t go any further logically.
- If you end at a point at which your organization is likely to be impacted strategically, you have a high priority issue and you should do something about it.
Here’s an example from a non-profit organization I recently joined as a volunteer:
- Issue: I recently heard from the treasurer that invoicing and accounts receivables haven’t been being managed properly. Upon further discussion with her, I discovered that the financial reporting from an important program last year was a disaster, just like all the others before it.
- Consequence 1: if basic bookkeeping is not functioning well, then the accounting information is going to be inaccurate and/or unusable for decision making.
- Consequence 2: if accounting information is unusable, then the organization won’t be able to apply for sponsorships and government grants and the executives will be liable for financial problems.
- Consequence 3: if grants and funding are not available in the future, then the organization will not be sustainable, and its operations and scope of social impact will be seriously limited.
- Consequence 4: if the organization will not be sustainable and its ability to drive social impact is seriously limited, then the organization’s mission will not be achievable.
Apparently the treasurer had been complaining about this for over a year, but nobody had framed it under a strategic picture and acted upon it. I immediately talked to the president and chairman of the board saying that we need to enforce standards for processing revenues and expenditures so that we can fulfill our strategic vision.
- Result: The executive team gave me the power and responsibility to resolve how we account for expenditures and revenues at the budding non-profit organization, and now I have much more leadership and clout at the organization.
To understand when and where to use this thinking style, let’s examine the four parts of leadership:
Self – Practice thinking about consequences. It seems easy to use the tool above, but can you remember to use it consistently during the day when hundreds of other things are redirecting your attention? It takes serious practice to be able to spot strategic consequences. Try to use it in daily life and make it a part of who you are.
People – Be aware of what people around you are doing. The people doing the work on the ground often have the deepest understanding about an organization’s problems or opportunities. If you hear people complain about something consistently or emotionally, it is worth investigating to figure out if it’s a strategic-level problem. Like in the example, it’s too easy for an organization to dismiss the issues being raised by its employees. In other cases, people might be sitting on a ticking time-bomb and not even know it. As a leader, it therefore pays to walk around and have a good awareness of what people are up to.
Situations – Ensure you have the strategic picture. In order to apply the strategic consequences thought process, you have to understand the strategic posture and direction of your organization. For example, I wouldn’t have been able to draw out consequences 3 and 4 in the example above if I hadn’t known that grants and scholarships are an important part of the strategic picture. Being well-versed in the strategic picture of your organization allows you to spot strategic issues.
If you don’t have a good strategic picture and you try to apply the consequential thinking tool, you might end up going in circles around tactical-level issues.
Outcomes – Ensure you take action. Using the strategic consequences tool gives you a better chance at finding the strategically relevant issues. Now, you have to follow through with some kind of action that can solve problems. If you consistently solve strategic problems that nobody has done anything about, you are essentially building proof that you are willing and able to do what it takes to ensure that the organization succeeds and that the people you work with are moving in the right direction.
Share this with someone who you think might be sitting on a great opportunity improve her organization!