When I think ‘Strategic’, Zhuge Liang, a famous Strategist in Ancient China, instantly comes to mind. At his peak, he is known as a master tactician, brilliant advisor and insightful leader. However, in my experience in coaching many organizations in Singapore and around Asia, the word "strategic" can cause a lot of concerns for top leaders. Many people, especially top leaders, have a misunderstanding about the StrengthsFinder 'Strategic' theme. It is not common to find that a top leader in an organization becomes very distressed whenever the 'Strategic' theme fails to turn up as one of their dominant talent themes. Many are often confused over the Strengthsfinder definition and the common English definition of the word "strategic". The truth of the matter is that ANY of the StrengthsFinder talent themes can be used to develop good strategies as a leader. I personally have seen some top Singapore leaders lead their organizations and teams strategically using the Ideation, Learner or Futuristic theme. I have also seen how others use the Connectedness and the Input theme. Many top leaders in Singapore do not have 'Strategic' theme as their dominant talent themes. This common misconception can be resolved once people have a better understanding of what the 'Strategic' talent theme is really about.
Those with ‘Strategic’ in their top 5 Strengthsfinder result have a unique ability to quickly weigh various alternatives to determine the best option. They dislike environments that are rigid where there is a fixed way of achieving an outcome. People who have Strategic as their dominant talent theme are easily excited to examine current possibilities to explore new and better ways to achieve an outcome. This is especially so if others have tried and failed. Simply put, a peak experience happens when the Strategic person generates a brilliant and effective strategy that trumps all previous (failed) attempts.
In Strengths School™ Singapore, both the founders, Jason and myself have Strategic as our dominant Strengthsfinder themes. This has been very helpful. Whenever we get into a disagreement because of our differences in perspectives, we will use our Strategic theme to align ourselves. We ask the questions "what options do we have and how can we move forward?" This allows us to lay out the cards and choose one option that will bring us forward. Having the Strategic theme helps both of us to know that our different perspectives can be leveraged on in light of a common purpose - whatever we do together as a team, it must position the company to move forward and achieve better results.
How can a person with Strategic grow this talent into a Strength? I will like to suggest a few ways.
1. CLARIFY. COMMUNICATE. COLLABORATE.
A Strategic person can grow by adopting this simple 3-step process.
- Clarify the team outcome.
In a team, different people can have different agendas. Those with the Strategic talent who take time to listen and to clarify the outcome often present greater alternatives and solutions to the team as opposed to those who seek to impose their ideals. Learning to listen to team members and clarifying key outcomes required by the team are critical steps in turning a Strategic talent into a Strength. Legendary American Basketball coach, John Wooden, shares this simple quote -"If, as a leader, you listen to them, then they will listen to you." People with Strategic can make a huge impact to any team when they take time to listen to others and integrate different suggestions into their strategies.
- Communicate your intent.
Often, the Strategic person sees many alternatives to an outcome and these alternatives can often result in cost savings, time savings and greater efficiency. However, some of these alternatives might be perceived as shortcuts that not everyone can appreciate, particularly for those with the Responsibility talent. A person with the Strategic talent can overcome this challenge by choosing to communicate his intentions early and being upfront. Doing that often allows team members to consider the proposed alternative with a greater level of trust. It is commonplace to hear that those with Strategic talents are not upfront with their thoughts and intentions, only to be wrongly labelled as manipulative and scheming.
- Collaborate with others.
People with the Strategic talent can often be skilled negotiators given the innate talent to see the end goal and alternatives to reach there. When these people choose to be team-centered (through collaboration) rather than be self-centered, the outcome is often a win-win situation for everyone. Conversely, people who seek to strategically outfox their opponents at every single opportunity might reap benefits for themselves in the short run, but will eventually discover that the trust level between them and others in the team will decrease in the longer run. That, ironically, is Strategic being counter-productive.
2. WIN THE HEARTS OF TEAM MEMBERS.
When people follow, they often do so because they want to; not because they have to. The genius of the Strategic talent is the ability to quickly weigh various alternative paths and determine the one that will work best and most efficiently. However, in a team, this innate talent is not necessarily recognized should this person fail to understand a simple leadership principle - the right to be followed must be earned. Those with the Strategic talent must recognize that followers tend to follow the guide more than the path. People with the Strategic talent must win the trust and the hearts of team members before they can make consistent and effective contributions to the team. Otherwise, it would not be surprising that the Strategic talent in its infancy stage can cause team members to easily feel that they are pawns in a game or resources for a task rather than people to be valued.
With Strategic as one of my top 5 Strengthsfinder talents, I engage this talent to intentionally build relationships with my team members. Because it is not second nature to me, I make it a point to take note of others - like their preferences or their birthdays (tip: list it beside their names on the phone contact list). Listening in, sharing my desires and ambitions, as well as choosing to be vulnerable are all part of the effort on my end to demonstrate my intentions openly. Over the years, I have reaped the benefits of building trust in the team. More often than not, whenever I get misunderstood because of the way I share a particular plan or strategy, someone else in the team helps me to clarify my intentions by asking me good questions. As such, the team allows me to contribute my strategies and often adopts them to move forward. That has motivated me to contribute more productively to the team.
3. SEEK COMPLEMENTARY PARTNERSHIPS.
Many Strategic people enjoy beating the system, especially during their teenage years. They get a kick out of discovering ways to outsmart a system that is deemed to be robust. They take pride in their ability to dismantle a system quickly. It is not surprising that people with Strategic talents are often a bane to those implementing rules and policies. However, if left unchecked, this innate talent can lead to one becoming power-hungry and potentially corrupt. Great partnerships formed can help a Strategic person to grow in humility and maturity.
When a Strategic person partners those with Consistency or Responsibility, it often results in healthy tensions that force the person with Strategic to review his or her intents.
- Partner someone with Responsibility.
People with Responsibility prefer not to cut corners. Partnering someone strong in the Responsibility talent allows for discussions that can encourage a Strategic person to consider responsible behaviors. Questions that surface in the thought process may include: Is this the right thing to do? Will taking this shortcut potentially affect our team's good reputation? Will venturing into this grey zone lead to corruption?
- Partner someone with Consistency.
Those with the Consistency talent prefer to be fair and just. They prefer to treat everyone fairly and hate preferential treatment. The Strategic person who partners one with Consistency can enter into discussions which help to check their motivations and reconsider behaviours that can be deemed as manipulative. Questions that may arise include: What will be a good valid reason for us to make an exception? How can I create a system that treats everyone fairly and yet rewards high performers?
Ending note: Being Strategic does not mean these people think they know best. It just means they see things differently and they enjoy exploring alternatives to get better solutions. Engage the different perspectives they offer and you might just benefit from some Ah-ha moments!
Written by Victor Seet
Activator • Communication • Strategic • Self-Assurance • Command
As a Gallup Certified Singapore Strengthsfinder coach, Victor is passionate about strengths engagement and now runs his own training company, Strengths School™ (strengthsschool.com), based out of Singapore. He has been actively giving Strengthsfinder leadership and team building workshops to businesses and schools in Singapore as well as Hong Kong, China (Shanghai) and India.