In each day in this series, we’re going to take a look at a different ability. Being a great strategic thinker is not something you can switch on or switch off, it is actually a part of who you are, composed out of a long list of abilities. The good thing about this is that you’ll be able to develop each ability separate from each other.

Today, we’re looking at the ability to clearly define objectives.

If you want to be able to think strategically, it is essential that you’re able to formulate and write out a set of goals you want to reach. And, additionally, you need the ability to create an action plan for each of your objectives by breaking them down in tasks. Personally, putting objectives and tasks to paper is the best way to validate my strategic thinking.

A couple of thoughts on compiling a set of objectives:

  • Good objectives can be clearly marked as completed. This means they need to be well defined, so you could use something like SMART-goals to construct them.
  • Good objectives contain a “why”, to keep everyone aligned (this is where it actually expands on SMART, because SMART does not deal with why you’re doing something).
  • Watch out for confusing objectives with tasks. “Submitting our app to the App Store” is not an objective, this is a task that can be completed.
  • Essentially, as with all writing, constructing a good objective takes a lot of time and refinement before it is good. So if you're asked to define objectives: take plenty of time, sleep on it and look at what you wrote again the next day.

The second phase is defining a list of tasks or actions to actually complete the objective. My take on it:

  • We’re often really bad at defining clear next actions. You should definitely read Getting Things Done if you want to get better at this. A next action is something you can literally do the very next minute (given that the physical circumstances are correct, e.g. you have a phone available to make a call). A good example of a next action could be: “write down a list of 10 ideas for blog posts”.
  • If you are creating a high level set of objectives and a rough outline of tasks, it is easy to fall into the trap of adding too much detail to the list of tasks. You are probably writing down too much at this state.
  • The better you are at estimating how much time each task is going to take, the more value you can deliver to the strategic table. As I wrote before: leadership is all about estimating distance.

Tomorrow, in day 2 of this Strategic Thinking Week, we’re going to look at the ability to design for change.