Seven Essential Ingredients for Leadership

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Strategic thinkers also need to "reframe and reflect," Sonty says. Reframing means being able to switch your attention across multiple perspectives to generate new insights, he explains, while reflection requires you to process information, create knowledge from it and apply that knowledge.

These are the skills Sonty applied when creating a five-year strategic plan for Broward County, including a multiyear initiative called Project Knexus On Demand Workplace for Education. The goal of the project is to provide unified access to district information by pulling together the school system's applications, information and databases in a single Web portal. So far, Sonty's group has completed the first phase of the four-part project, enabling 2,000 administrators, principals and guidance counselors to access the information and applications they need to do their jobs. Later, teachers, parents and students will also be able to access information.

"The analogy I like to use is that to win in chess, you need to think a few steps ahead of your opponent," Sonty says. "We're investing significant dollars in technology, and you need to have a road map to see where you are and get a reality check on where you need to be."

So, how do you emerge into the strategic-thinking stratosphere? The good news is, strategic thinkers are made, not born, says David Baruch, senior vice president and CIO at Chicago-based Equity Office Properties Trust, one of the largest owners and managers of office buildings in the U.S. "For me, it developed over time," he says. "As the things I did became more complex, it became more important to put my planning efforts into carrying out strategic thoughts."

The first step is to build trust with your business partners, Baruch says. For instance, his group brainstormed with the national property operations group at Equity Office on how it could improve revenue and the level of service in its parking garage operations the source of a large part of the company's revenue. As a result, IT built a system that is currently being rolled out in 12 cities that allows the company to bill more accurately, speed payment collection and offer customer self-service.

"We had to understand the business first and apply technology solutions to help move the business where they wanted to go," Baruch says. "That to me is strategic thinking and planning."

Strategic Thinking: How to Soak Up the Skill
  • Familiarize yourself with technical, process and operational details at your company. This will qualify you to discuss strategy.
  • Consider resource constraints to be your best ally, since leaner budgets can help force strategic, as opposed to tactical, decisions.
  • Read business and technology periodicals. They may help spur ideas that you can turn into action items.
  • Don't overlook the thoughts that occur to you during your off-hours. The workday can quickly fill up with tactical tasks, so your most strategic ideas may come during your workout or commute.

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

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