How To Think Strategically As A Leader

David Burkus
5 min readJul 5, 2022

There is a lot to think about as a leader. There are goals to pursue. There are people to manage. And every day new problems arise that make pursuing those goals or supporting those people more difficult. Amid all these demands, it can be difficult to think any more deeply than just reacting to the moment.

Leaders know they need to think strategically, but often don’t know how to find the time to do so.

But strategic thinking isn’t about carving out large blocks of time to ponder problems. Instead, often it’s about reframing existing situations-asking new questions that promote new ways of thinking.

So, in this article, we’ll review five relatively simple questions leaders need to ask often to develop the habit of thinking more strategically.

What are the real priorities?

The first question to think strategically as a leader is “What are the real priorities?” This question cuts right to the core of the dilemma above. As new assignments, and new problems, are added to a team’s responsibilities, teams often fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent. The newest tasks often look like most urgent and draw attention away from the more critical ones. It takes smart leaders to step back and ask, or re-ask, “what are the real priorities-the critical tasks-that we cannot ignore?” To better classify tasks, consider the Urgent-Important matrix popularized by Stephen Covey, and label each new responsibility based on whether it’s truly urgent and important, or just one of the two, or neither, before deciding what to do about it as a team.

What does success look like?

The second question to think strategically as a leader is “What does success look like?” Once you’ve identified the urgent and important tasks, it’s worth defining how you’d like them to be executed -or at least what successful completion looks like. This doesn’t just mean “done.” It means done in what time frame, done under what budget constraints, done with what other circumstances that would make it truly successful. This is important because as the situation changes, teams may have to adjust their execution plans on the fly. Knowing what success looks like allows them to modify the plan for execution and still achieve…

David Burkus

Author of BEST TEAM EVER | Keynote Speaker | Organizational Psychologist | Thinkers50 Ranked Thought Leader |

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