The Strategic Pause

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When I talk to Executive Assistants, aspiring Chiefs of Staff, and other executive support professionals, there is always a common theme (okay, there are several common themes, but let’s just tackle one today): strategic thinking. Force Multipliers are asked to be more strategic at work, encouraged to be more strategic in order to grow their careers, and desire to be more strategic for their own leadership, but often with little guidance on how to actually make that happen.

Strategic thinking is an individual’s capacity for analyzing complex situations, thinking systematically and conceptually, and making informed decisions towards the attainment of success in the future. In other words, strategic thinking goes beyond the day-to-day tasks and focuses on understanding the bigger picture, clearly understanding context, identifying patterns and trends, identifying gaps, and thinking of solutions to navigate challenges and create new opportunities.

As an Executive Business Partner or Force Multiplier, our first inclination when faced with a problem, a newly assigned task, or an upcoming project is to put our heads down and get to work. This is usually the fastest way to get said item done, off your list, and on to the next task before ten more things fall on your plate. And yet, in order to grow in our roles, we need to fight against our first instinct (and well-honed “get shit done” muscle) and become more strategic.

Enter The Strategic Pause.

What is a Strategic Pause?

The Strategic Pause is similar to the concept of the Buddha’s sacred pause, which refers to a moment of mindfulness and intentional reflection that allows individuals to step out of their autopilot mode, observe their thoughts and emotions, and reconnect with the present moment.

The Strategic Pause is a practice of taking a pause or break before you dive into a task or project. This pause allows you to stop just long enough to analyze, ask questions, and strategize before you start “doing”. After taking this pause you may realize you don’t actually have to do anything at all, except delegate or make an introduction to someone else!

The Strategic Pause for Force Multipliers means taking a beat before you go straight into doing mode. Take off your “executor” hat and put on your “strategy” hat and walk through the steps below to start practicing your strategic thinking.

How to Take a Strategic Pause

  1. Analyze: Really look at the project, task, or new idea your Principal shared with you. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What information do you have? What information do you still need? How does this task fit into the overall company’s objectives for the quarter? Does it at all? Are there similar projects being handled by another team member? Are there any patterns to this new project? Who will it effect? I know I can do it, but does it actually fall into someone else’s area of responsibility?
  2. Anticipate: How does this new project or new hire track with current and future projects? Is this a one-off assignment or is it actually part of something larger and necessitate bringing teams together? How does a new hire that you are responsible for helping to onboard fit into the bigger picture? How will this new hire impact the organization? Consider various possibilities that may happen in the future based on your new tasks, before you act.
  3. Innovate: You could get this project done the same way you’ve done before and the same way the EA before you did it, but is there a better way? Generate creative and innovative ideas to address problems or leverage opportunities. Think outside the box, challenge the status quo, and explore new approaches or perspectives. You never know what may arise from this strategic thinking exercise!
  4. Plan: Once you have analyzed the assignment, considered future implications, and brainstormed new ideas, it’s time to create a plan of action. Get clear on the desired outcome, objectives, and any action steps that need to be completed in order to achieve the immediate and long-term result. Remember to include any information about resource allocation, people who should be included in the process or decision making, other costs, and timelines for implementation.
  5. Recommendations: Becoming a better strategic thinker starts with thinking, but needs to eventually move into action. As a Force Multiplier, you may not be the final decision maker, but you can still make an impact on the decision that is made. After your thorough analysis and proposed plan of action, make sure to voice your opinion about what decision or direction you think your Principal or the company should take. You’re done the research; you’ve done the strategic thinking; now it’s time to make a recommendation. A strategic business partner is never indifferent. The role involves taking calculated risks and embracing accountability for the outcomes, and in this case, it’s sharing what decision you think is the right one for stakeholders.
  6. Adapt: Strategic thinking is an iterative process. There will always be more questions to ask, people to consider, and shifting priorities. A strong strategic thinker is able to adapt to new pieces of information and uncertain situations. You must be flexible and open to change, respond to unforeseen circumstances, and learn from each new experience.

Now, not every situation is going to call for a full six-step strategic thinking process, but you will want to get into the habit of taking the Strategic Pause and asking yourself questions before you dive in. Make sure you are clear on the goals for the company, the quarterly OKRs, and other metrics that provide the context you need to practice your strategic thinking.

If you need a reminder, put a sticky note on your desktop or create a background image on your laptop that simply says, “Take a Strategic Pause.” The more top of mind this pause is, the faster you will be able to hone your strategic thinking skills and be able to add leading up and leading others to your resume.

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