The Skills Gap: Strategic Thinking for Managers

Posted on October 12, 2023
The Skills Gap: Strategic Thinking for Managers

Effective management is crucial to today’s fast-paced and dynamic business landscape. As changes like technological advancements, disruptive policies and shifting economic and political tensions arise, the management and senior teams function as an organization’s backbone. Their decisions lead teams to success and inspire innovations in the face of complex obstacles. Yet, there is an evident skills gap for professionals levelling up from aspiring leaders to more mid-career and senior positions, with one glaring gap: strategic thinking.   


The Skills Gap  

This gap is not one companies can afford to overlook. In 2022, Schulich ExecEd’s Career Mobility & Skills Report surveyed 500 professionals, managers, and directors across sectors, naming strategic thinking a top “Level Up” skill. They considered it necessary for managers and senior leaders to propel themselves and their teams forward. Sharpening strategic thinking is a means of standing out amongst peers and competition, and an organization with leaders capable of strategic thinking positions itself for long-term growth, sustainability, and innovation.  

Now more than ever, businesses need strategic thinking. Professionals at the management level can no longer afford to stick to a 5-year plan: times have changed, and strategic thinking and strategic agility were birthed to guide leaders in adapting to and identifying opportunities in this ever-shifting business sphere. 


The Importance of Strategic Thinking  

The two main reasons companies need more strategic thinking at the management levels are to 1) make decisions that align with the overall strategy and 2) be agile with their strategy, recognizing that changes in the environment can knock plans off course.   

Strategic thinking fosters structured decision-making, allowing leaders to make decisions that are more balanced, consistent and connected with a business’s long-term goals and mission. It allows them to amalgamate key considerations such as adaptability, resource allocation, and opportunity identification into robust decisions that not only address the problem at hand but also propel the business forward.  

Additionally, having just dredged through a global pandemic, the uncertainty of both the larger and business world is evident. Unforeseen obstacles will undoubtedly hit businesses, and strategic thinking allows managers to navigate through these changes and adapt when their plans are thrown askew.   

Adrian Balah, Sr. Director of Network Operations at Purolator and current student of the Schulich Mini-MBA: Essentials of Management program at Schulich ExecEd, attests to the necessity of strategic thinking, seeing it as a way for leaders to learn more about their strengths and weaknesses and improving upon them.   

His classmate, Shelly Skoberg, Assistant Manager at the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), shares Balah’s sentiments, considering strategic thinking and agility a tool for making better business decisions, thinking beyond the sales aspect of businesses and focusing more on the company and its future—and preparing for the future is precisely what strategic thinking is designed to do. 

It is a long-term play, focusing on sustainable changes within an organization rather than immediate gains. Accordingly, Balah plans to take the learnings from the program back to Purolator and improve individual, team and company performance.  

Yet, strategic thinking is difficult to teach. It is mainly context-dependent, calling for adaptability and real-world challenges, experiences, and applications, which is why professionals like Balah and Skoberg sought out the Schulich Mini-MBA: Essentials of Management, a program designed to upskill and reskill across key business areas like strategic thinking. 

“Over the last 2 decades, I’ve evolved through multiple sales roles to eventually lead highly accomplished senior technical sales professionals at one of the most consequential organizations globally,” shared another program participant, Trevor Kadiata, Manager of Customer Engineering at Google Cloud. “In the process, I’ve had the privilege of meeting interesting people, working on globally impactful projects, managing high-performing teams and working with or for organizations at varying business stages. I’ve learned that I love business and management. Continuously improving to deliver for my team, organization and customers is a constant.”  


Looking Ahead  

As Kadiata highlights, effective leadership means continuously striving for improvement in integral fields like strategic thinking.  While newer skills may become more necessary as the world shifts, rather than displacing strategic thinking, they will be needed to complement this enduring skill.  

Kadiata, Balah and Skoberg join a select cohort of 2023 Schulich Mini MBA graduates aiming to make a difference in their organizations by way of new strategic thinking and an adaptable business management toolkit that addresses today’s business climate.