1. Read about other leaders and the challenges they faced and how they solved them
I love the
book,"Strategy Rules: 5 Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove and
Steve Jobs,"by Yoffie and Cusumano, as a way to jump-start your thinking.
While I have a long list of reading suggestions, for business professionals, this one provides some great insights and lessons from three of the individuals most responsible for creating our technology-driven world. For those whose preferences run to history, try "Winston Churchill: Memoirs of the Second World War," where you get an up close and personal look at the nation and world-changing problems encountered by this war-time leader.
If you don't like my suggestions, find subjects and authors who expose you to new ideas and challenge you to think differently. I encourage my coaching clients to read thought-provoking content for at least 20-minutes every day.
2. Exercise your critical thinking skills by analyzing your competitors
Study yourcompetitorsand attempt to
distill and describe their strategies and more importantly, how and where they
make money. Strive to understand the customer groups they focus on and how and
why they win and lose. Do the same for your own firm and identify opportunities
for your firm to beat the competitors.
Engage your customer-facing colleagues in
this exercise to gain their insights on competitor strategies and
opportunities. This type of intelligence gathering and analysis is an excellent
exercise for your entire team.
3. Find an orphan problem and adopt
In every organization, there are annoying problems no one claims as their own. Identify an orphan problem and ask for your boss's support in tackling it. For issues that cross functions, you'll need to pull together a team. Guide your team through the process of analyzing the problem, interviewing key stakeholders and developing potential solutions. In addition to gaining visibility as a leader and problem-solver, you will be exercising all 4 of your core professional skill sets with this activity!
4. Figure out what keeps executives in your firm awake at night
Invite your boss or an executive to lunch and ask
questions about thestrategy and directionof the firm. Strive to understand the
big challenges they see for the firm and ask for their views on the ideal
strategy and key actions. You will gain invaluable insight into the big issues
surrounding the firm's future and you will walk away with a better
understanding of the complex challenges senior leaders grapple with on a daily
5. Put a team on it
Guide your team throughstructured problem-solution development activities.Work with your team to assess problems from multiple viewpoints and develop alternative solutions. For example, a competitor’s announcement might be viewed as a threat. While you should guide the team through data gathering, analysis and countermeasure development, try also framing the situation as an opportunity. By launching a new offering, your competitor is investing resources in one area. Does this mean they will be saying no to other segments or stretched thin to defend their legacy offerings? Learning to re-frame issues and problems and to develop multiple solution sets depending upon the frame, is a powerful use of your critical thinking skills.
6. Start and maintain a journal to chart your successes and mistakes
I encourage all of my coaching clients to log key decisions and expected outcomes and to reference these entries over time. By examining your assumptions and logic and comparing expected to actual outcomes, you gain insight into your own decision-making and critical thinking strengths and weaknesses.