The 9th European Conference on Management Leadership and Governance was held at Alpin-Adria University, Klagenfurt, Austria.
The opening address, by Julia Sloan of the USA, explored the topic of learning to think strategically, and the importance of such thinking to sustainable business performance. Sloan drew a clear demarcation between strategic thinking, strategic planning and strategic implementation. She asserted that most organisational leaders have reasonably well-developed planning and implementation skills, but poorly developed thinking skills.
Whereas strategic planning tends to be linear, tidy, convergent, clean and aims to solve problems, strategic thinking tends to be non-linear, iterative, messy and aims to suspend problem solving while the nature of the problem is more clearly understood. Sloan suggested that leaders need to become skilled in strategic thinking and strategic planning. Otherwise, if leaders can only but plan in detail—without asking questions of context—and, as a result, expose their organisations to the very real chance of getting it wrong.
Sloan's thesis is as compelling as it is self-evident—which begs the question: Why do so many leaders ignore the strategic thinking element? Is it too hard, too complex, or is it simply a case of leaders not knowing what they don't know? Perhaps more importantly, how can this gap be bridged? Our business schools probably have an important responsibility in addressing these questions. They need to take stock of Sloan's thesis, with a view to adjusting their curricula, to emphasise the cognitive skills that are so obviously missing from the graduates emerging from their programmes.
Readers wanting to more should read Sloan's book "Learning to think strategically", the second edition of which has just been published.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.