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The Artist in You, Strategically-Speaking

The Artist In You

Are you a painter? We all are in the figurative sense of the word. So, which one describes you best, at home, and at work?

Are you a ‘paint and sip’ type of artist? If you have not yet experienced this, imagine you and your friends gathering at a studio for a professionally-led, stroke-by-stroke painting experience combined with a few drinks. You walk out with your painting looking, more or less, like the sample the instructor painted, and everyone else’s painting too. Thank goodness for those of us who are not as artistically inclined, for this requires neither much skill nor thinking. The instructor has created the vision and shows us the path to replicating it.

In contrast, are you a blank-canvas kind of artist? You find inspiration from outside influences to create a vision in your mind. The painting becomes a reflection of that unique vision and is like no other. There is no instructor and there may or may not be wine. The process requires some more skill and a whole lot more thought, in fact, a different way of thinking. It requires some strategic thinking to create the vision and bring it to life.

Which artist are you literally? Personally, I have a couple paint-and-sip paintings hanging in my room but none of my blank-canvas paintings survived long enough to earn a spot. You may have to go back a long way to remember the last painting you did. Some of my kids’ finger-paintings earned a spot on the refrigerator for a time.

I invite you now to think more figuratively about your work setting. Which type of ‘artist’ are you in that setting? Which type of artist is your organization? Think about it this way, a blank-canvas artist must apply some strategic thinking and chart their own path. A paint-and-sip artist need not think strategically beyond choosing what to drink, and the path is laid out for them for the painting.


Creator’s Block (For Artists and Strategists) 

Strategic thinking is an area of frustration for many leaders, both for themselves and for the people they lead. Many leaders find themselves wishing they were more strategic. The future of the organization may depend on it. They value they offer the organization may depend on it as well. For some, the challenge is finding the uninterrupted time needed to do the deep thinking, being consumed instead by day-to-day tactical matters, and fielding frequent interruptions. For others, it is a bias for the way things are or should be and difficulty moving away from the completed sample canvas. Perhaps it is fatigue that holds you back or anticipation of the barriers that get in the way of implementation. The reasons are many.

And in the absence of strategic thinking, leaders find themselves more and more in a reactive mode, possibly even fire-fighting. Leaders may see only missed opportunities and have regrets for not acting sooner. Over time, this may lead to growth stagnation, thinning profit margins, high turnover.


Strategic Thinking Unleashed! 

On the flip side, those leaders who are overcoming the obstacles to strategic thinking are being proactive, taking advantage of and creating opportunities that yield future returns. Their organizations are remaining competitive, relevant and are growing in an increasingly competitive world by meeting the needs of the future and being in the right place at the right time. They are weathering the hard times well, creating for long-term sustainability. Those leaders are bringing great value to the organization.

Here are some signs that you may be a strategic thinker:

  • Future-Focused – As leadership thought leader, John Maxwell puts it ‘…taking control of tomorrow by thinking about it today.’ It is anticipating the future of the external environment, including major shifts in the marketplace, emerging opportunities, and potential threats.
  • Systems-View – Holistically examining the organization’s ecosystem and stakeholders. And then identifying connections within and across that ecosystem of people, ideas, networks, assets, and more.
  • Envisioning what is possible – looking for and seeing opportunities, and asking ‘What if?’
  • Creative and Resourceful – working through constraints, limitations, and obstacles with a can-do spirit.
  • Decisive Risk-Taking – Willingly making tough calls in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty after weighing the risks.


Finding it in You

A discussion with leaders revealed the following strategies for overcoming common barriers to strategic thinking:

  • Monitor the external environment (market, industry, competitors, customer, etc. for behaviors, preferences, trends, etc. through research and talking with people outside the organization having perspectives different than yours)
  • Invite input from within the organization to surface additional insights and ideas and garner buy-in for later implementation.
  • Use tools to support analysis (i.e., SWOT, Porter’s 5 Forces, Porter’s Value Chain, Pareto, Pugh Matrix, etc.). They help to guide what information to seek and provides a way to visual it that leads to clarity and new insights.
  • Challenge assumptions and ask open-ended questions such as ‘What if?’, ‘How?’ and ‘Why not?’
  • Dedicate time by making it a priority, eliminating distractions, and catching you when your mind is most sharp.

 If you wish to be more of a strategic thinker, consider what is holding you back, and whether any of the strategies above could help to free you. Then make the necessary changes so that you, too, may envision what should be on the blank canvas for your organization. If this proves easier said than done, consider engaging with a coach to support you in identifying and overcoming those barriers and unleashing your figurative paintbrush. So, call a coach, and then create your masterpiece!


 (About the IMAGE: “Artist paint brush and palette” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Angela Morrill

Passionate about growing amazing leaders who create great places to work and lead fulfilling lives, Angela enables transformational change in individuals, teams, and businesses. As a Certified Professional Coach, she is skilled at combining sound coaching skills with proven leadership methodologies to cultivate growth and ultimately, results.