Textbooks on strategic planning describe actions taken in the marketplace by competing companies to gain competitive advantage. Major types of strategies are catalogued and given various names by different authors. Often these strategies and tactics are so bold and innovative that they "change the rules of the game." Leaders are increasingly being advised to seek that objective in planning and executing their strategies. The pace of change today is dizzying with new technological breakthroughs occurring at shorter intervals and global competition putting the heat on. Mergers and acquisitions change the competitive landscape unexpectedly, and strategic alliances develop even among companies that were, or still are, competitors.

In their 1994 book, "Hyper-competition," professor Richard D'Aveni of Columbia University with Robert Gunther discuss the highly aggressive form of competition that characterizes high tech industries today. Hyper-competition is said to be increasingly making its way into other industries as well. They speak in terms of surprise, speed and mobility, terms suggestive of the military approach. Not that aggressive action is new in business so much so as the level, intent and severity of business "combat" has changed dramatically. As we approach the new millennium, strategic action is growingly typified by such features.

Underlying strategic plans and initiatives is a mindset that guides leadership thinking. It can be thought of as being composed of principles or guides. Most of them have been in existence sice ancient times. They are illustrated in the lives and writings of Alexander, Sun Tzu, Caesar, Machiavelli, Napoleon, and so on.

The ways of thinking that underlie strategy formulation are seldom addressed in business textbooks. I haven't found that much light is shed on them though today's strategic innovators are still held in high regard.

But principles, or at least guides, can be reverse engineered by careful review of business case studies also. I have assembled some of these from such sources as well as reflections arising from my consulting engagements with organizational leaders. Their presentation here is skeletal for convenience sake, and I have not made a great effort to put them into sequence. However, taken as a whole, they offer a useful checklist and food for thought as to how leaders think.
How Leaders Think: The Strategic Mindset In Leadership:

-- Has a clear sense of desired outcomes before acting. Develops a plan capable of delivering outcomes that will add significant value to a state of affairs.

-- Scopes outwards to capture the larger context, to see how the pieces fit together.

-- Is adaptive to realities and flexible in choice of tactics. Recognizes that once action begins the "game board" is fluid offering both new threats and new opportunities.

-- Where possible, tries to achieve multiple objectives through singular actions.

-- Plans a couple of steps ahead. It is said that Napoleon could conceive of seven steps ahead, each one with its potential counteractions by opponents.

-- Anticipates opponent's actions and mentally rehearses next responses should those contingencies arise.

-- Has the discipline to remain composed when the unexpected occurs.

-- Tries to capitalize on crises or change, turn them to advantage.

-- Stays future-focused.

-- Invents both sequential and parallel actions to accomplish goals.

-- Picks battles that can be won and avoids those that cannot be won.

--At least not at an acceptable cost.)

-- Supplements actions with those of others (allies, partners, joint ventures.)

-- Patient, with a good sense of timing.

-- Acts decisively when the time to act has come.

-- Is able to scrap or alter plans when information indicates actions are not attaining their intended results.

-- Doesn't signal punches. (Unless in the form of a ploy.)

-- Knows what can be conceded or lost and what is essential to retain, preserve, gain.

-- Doesn't bluff when the stakes are critical.

-- Seeks and exploits opponent's weaknesses, oversights and mistakes.

-- Maintains forward momentum.

-- Uses surprise to advantage.

-- Uses speed to advantage.

-- Holds resources in reserve should their need arise.

-- Forms alliances with opponents of his opponents.

-- Learns opponent's strengths and weaknesses.

-- Is aggressive in pursuing goals and ready to move on to the next.

-- Does not rest on old glories.

-- Taps diverse points of view in planning.

-- Assures that everyone knows their roles and are equipped with the resources to contribute.

-- Maintains a state of readiness. Stays alert and ready.

-- Monitors activities in the operating environment.

-- Uses "what if" speculation to stretch thinking in the direction of opportunities and possibilities.

-- Has a good sense of what may be possible to achieve in the prevailing state of "politics." The art of what's possible.

-- Studies the logic of the opponent's tactics with an eye toward determining what their ultimate end purposes may be.

-- Makes use of trial balloons. Feints actions to test reactions.

-- Usually prefers taking the offensive.

These are some tested aspects of thinking employed by leaders to gain and hold strategic advantage. They can serve as a checklist when your responsibilities include thinking strategically.

Author's Bio: 

Charles Albano operates a consulting firm
known as Adaptive Leadership. He conducts on-site leadership and management training. His
website contains course descriptions and articles of value to managers.

Email: CharlesAlbano@webtv.net