What’s the #1 problem for new managers?

A six-level pyramid: vision-missino-goals-strategy-tactics-actionIn an informal (but remarkably conclusive) survey I conducted last year, I asked a group of senior leaders, mid-level managers, and executive coaches one simple question:

What is the single biggest challenge you see for recently-promoted first-line managers and leaders?

The answers were 100% the same – and 100% not what I expected.

Without hesitation, every one of them said: Strategic thinking!

Oh. Of course.

These new, first-line leaders were, up until this point in their career, individual contributors: team members responsible for executing tasks. They’d never been asked – or taught – to think strategically, and in all likelihood seldom considered what “strategy” means or how it affects them.

For their entire career, they’d been rewarded (or chastised) for how well (or poorly) they completed their assigned tasks. And then they were probably promoted into this new leadership role because of their superior ability to execute on – you guessed it – those tasks.

But – oops! – this is no longer what their managers and leaders want from them, as evidenced by the clear notes of frustration I heard when I asked that question.

Strategic thinking is a BIG shift from task orientation. As you can see from the image included above, there are several steps between “strategy” and “action plan / tasks.”

And here’s the really sneaky bit: even senior leaders are often unclear or inconsistent on how they define “strategy” and “strategic thinking.”

It’s no wonder our fledgling managers and leaders are confused.

How do you define those terms? And do you teach strategic thinking in your organization?