3 Ways to be a Strategist, Not a Tactician

“You need to be more strategic.” Many aspiring leaders have heard this type of feedback during a performance review or after giving a presentation. But what does it really mean? And how do you make the shift from being tactical to thinking and acting more strategically? Ever wondered if it’s even possible when you don’t have anyone to delegate to?

“I started out as the ultimate tactician,” says Dona Munsch, Vice President of Cloud Operations at NetApp. “I had this continuous drive to enjoy the intoxicating buzz of checking off things on my list.” It’s immediately gratifying to conquer a to-do list, but if you aspire to move beyond your current role, you’ll need to think and act more strategically.

In a leadership webinar titled “Transitioning from Tactician to Strategist,” I asked Munsch to describe how strategists and tacticians operate differently. She shared three shifts in mind-set to implement immediately, even if you don’t yet have direct reports.

1. What’s Your Time Horizon?

In the early days of her career, Munsch had a boss with a management style that she found inspirational. “She managed people in an amazing way,” recalls Munsch, who learned that the difference between tacticians and strategists is your time horizon.

Consider your current timeframe as you go about your day-to-day work. According to Munsch, if you want to be a strategist, not a tactician, each day, ask yourself: “What is my time horizon and where am I influencing? Is it for today, tomorrow, a year from now, or five years from now? Am I being very tactical in what I’m doing, focused on today and tomorrow, or am I looking toward things that will happen two years from now?” Shifting your attention away from what’s required of you in the near future and focusing on the longer-term encourages you to become more forward thinking, visionary, and strategic.

2. What’s The Scope Of Your Influence?

Another element to consider, continues Munsch, is your degree of influence. “I had some great mentors,” said Munsch—mentors who showed her how leaders at the next level operate. “I realized that you don’t have to be the one to do it to get it done. You can accomplish a lot through influence. You don’t have to ‘own’ a team to participate in highly influential activities that make a difference for your company, its customers, and employees.”

To expand your scope of influence, look for ways to build new relationships and expand your network. “Are you working with a few team members who report to the same leader as you do?” she says. “Or, are you influencing and working with a larger set, team to team, or with organizations that are not really part of your day-to-day role? Above all, are you developing your understanding of what life is like for them?”

Munsch recommends asking yourself: “Is there something that I do in my role that could be of value to others? How can I help this person, their team, or the organization be better?” The more you can understand what’s important to others and facilitate their success, the more skilled you’ll become at engaging them to collaborate with you to make things happen. That’s what influencers do.

3. What’s The Extent Of The Change You’re Driving?

“The last part of being strategic is the degree of change that you’re looking to drive,” says Munsch. A tactician chips away at the kind of goals that don’t threaten the status quo, or require them to build new networks or learn new skills. Meanwhile, a strategist sets out to create the type of ground-breaking change that requires a completely different way of thinking and operating.

“Another element that differentiates tactical execution from strategic action is what I would consider ‘irreversible change,’ a change that can’t be undone,” says Munsch. So to become more strategic, scale up your aspirations. Go after driving broad, sweeping change. “Tell your story of where things are going to be five years from now,” says Munsch. “Not what needs to be done today, and not what’s going to break tomorrow, but a much more aspirational view.

“When you’re talking strategy, long-term goals, and transformational change, your arms should be out wide and big and moving like you’re conducting,” says Munsch. “You can’t do that with T-Rex arms.”

So to be a strategist (not a tactician) look to the future, expand your scope of influence, and drive larger-scale change. How will you put these three distinctions to use?

This article appeared in Forbes on January 14, 2017.

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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