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Stop spinning and start thinking

Whether you’re building a new business or running a long-standing one, the combination of today’s high-speed business environment and economic uncertainty probably has you responding to numerous urgent demands with little time to think about your business long-term. You’re probably spinning so many plates, you don’t stop to think about what you’re spinning them for.

Yet the dynamic environment confronting us today makes it more important than ever to pursue a clear and compelling strategy for our businesses. History is full of stories of innovative businesses that came into being during times of economic uncertainty and tumultuous change. In fact, times like these provide fertile ground for strong businesses to grow while mediocre ones fail.

So how do you get your head out of the weeds long enough to take a strategic look at your business and the changing environment? Some recent research, combined with the practical experience of the business leaders I work with, suggest a few key behaviors that can help:

First, create space and time for reflection and re-charging. You don’t need a multiple-day, off-site strategic planning meeting to reflect on the state of your business. But you do need to shut off the noise at some point and remind yourself of the “why” you do what you do.

Neuroscience research confirms that even as we rely more and more on teams, we also need alone time for reflection, creativity and perspective — critical elements for strategic thinking. So, by yourself or with your management team, ask yourself:

1. How is what we are focusing on helping us grow? If it’s not, why are we doing it?
2. Is this meaningfully different to our clients/customers?
3. How distinctive is our approach compared to our competitors? Does it differentiate us?
4. What’s in the way of us doing what we should be doing, as opposed to what we are doing?

By asking these strategy questions and reminding yourself of why you are in business in the first place, you’ll not only maintain strategic focus but also find you have more energy and enthusiasm for your work. Business leaders pursuing meaningful goals naturally convey energy and enthusiasm. They are exercising their natural strengths and even look like they’re having fun, because they are.

Second, get out of your own way. Let go of the myth that if you don’t take control of whatever the current issue is, it will get handled poorly. (If it will get handled poorly, then fixing your management team is job No. 1). The best strategic thinkers I know are also the most effective at delegating. They take responsibility as the strategic architect of their companies and delegate the operational details to others. Effective leaders develop strong management teams with clear systems of accountability; if you don’t have people you can trust to get the job done, why are they in their roles?

Third, leverage your connections. Bounce your business strategy off a small, trusted group of other people with different perspectives. Rely on your team of connections outside of your business to gain insight into changing markets, technologies and management practices. If you have an advisory board, use them for a strategy update at least once a year. Do some strategic listening: visit some customers and some people in your business you normally don’t talk with.

Remember, you are the strategy architect of your business. If you don’t take time out to revisit your strategy and reaffirm your purpose, some competitor who is will pass you by.