When I think of the Strategic talent theme, Zhuge Liang, a famous Strategist in Ancient China, instantly comes to mind. At his peak, he was known as a master tactician, brilliant advisor and insightful leader.
Those with ‘Strategic’ in their top 5 StrengthsFinder themes have a unique ability to sort through the clutter and 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 a dominant talent theme are 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.
Like those with the Analytical talent theme, people with the Strategic talent theme enjoy musing on a particular objective until the patterns and issues emerge. However, the motivation of the Analytical talent theme is in their drive to uncover the truth, and they are often drawn to data and hard facts to do so. The motivation of the Strategic talent theme, however, is in finding the most efficient path to achieve the objective. They have a knack for identifying paths that will run into resistance, paths that lead to nowhere, and then finally selecting the path that can effectively hit the objective while requiring minimal resources from themselves or the team. For this reason, those with Strategic are sometimes misunderstood as "lazy" and "prone to cutting corners," particularly when the team is in its infancy stage. However, at its maturity, the Strategic theme's genius is in being able to lead their team past obstacles and resistance, identifying a way forward that would produce maximum output with minimal effort.
My work partner, Jason Ho, has Strategic in his Top 5 themes. In leading our team, he enjoys looking at the work processes of each of our team members and thinking of ways to make their workflow more efficient, identifying potential obstacles and finding ways to eliminate them. By investing in each of our team members this way, he essentially communicates that he values their time and effort and wants to ensure that we make the most out of the strengths and skillsets that they bring to the company. This has resulted in a greater level of trust and collaboration within the team.
How can a person with Strategic grow this talent into a Strength? I would 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 on 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 self-centered, the outcome is 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 am 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 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.
- 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 behavior. 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 would 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. Engage the different perspectives they offer and you might just benefit from some Ah-ha moments!