When a promotion moves you out of day-to-day management and into a more strategic role, it can be hard to know where to focus your time. This was the case for a client I worked with last week, who was feeling a bit lost after a recent promotion.

The promotion was a welcome one. He had worked hard and covered a broad span of control during and in the aftermath of COVID, putting in 60+ hours per week to keep everything running. Now, those efforts are being recognized. He’s been given a C-Suite role. Even better, the organization is being restructured to spread out the work and reduce overload. All of this is great news!

The goal of the restructuring is to free up his time and energy. He can now move away from the day-to-day operations of the organization and focus on the big picture.

But what does that mean? And how will he know whether he’s adding value?

At the moment, all that free time has left him feeling at loose ends, even questioning whether he’s the right person for the job. (I have no doubt that he is and that with more clarity about the role, he’ll add a lot of value to the organization.)

This is a common phenomenon. As clients move up in their organizations, their mandate becomes less clear, their deliverables more vague.

As a result, they end up either feeling adrift, unsure of how to add value, or (more commonly), diving back into the details, wreaking havoc with the direct reports who should be managing the day-to-day work. The pull to be a problem-solver is very strong. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from jumping in and getting things done. Unfortunately, that’s not the right focus at the executive level.

At the top of the organization, your job shifts from doing what’s in front of you to thinking ahead. The time horizon for your work necessarily expands. The initiatives you launch may not bear fruit for a few years. Yet, this long-term thinking is vital to the growth and success of any organization – even as the future becomes more chaotic and difficult to predict.

It may feel strange to spend your time thinking, imagining, reading, and relating – but these are critical activities.

At a strategic level, your work is to:

1.) Articulate the company’s purpose in ways that move people. If the company’s (or division’s or department’s) mission and vision aren’t clear, then job number one is to clarify them. This is not a “once-and-done” activity. Even if the mission is clearly stated, there is work to be done to illustrate it with compelling stories and examples, so that it is motivating to people both inside and outside your organization.

2.) Align everything you do to that purpose. Employees are more engaged when they understand how their day-to-day activities relate to the organization’s mission and direction. Sometimes the connection is obvious – the doctor who saves a patient’s life in the emergency room is clearly contributing to the hospital’s mission to care for patients. For other roles, the contribution is less clear.

That’s where leadership comes in. The janitorial staff plays a critical role in reducing the spread of germs. Acknowledging that can go a long way toward helping them feel valued. The billing department ensures the hospital has the revenue needed to survive so it can continue to serve patients into the future. No money, no mission. As a leader, you can help everyone see the vital role each group plays in serving the organization’s greater purpose.

3.) Use the purpose to guide what you won’t do. Michael Porter, famous for his scholarship in corporate strategy, said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” With a clear purpose you can identify the extraneous projects or activities that no longer serve you. Eliminating them frees up valuable time and resources.

4.) Scan the environment for opportunities and threats. Managers play a boundary-spanning role, where an important part of the job is to look outward – whether that’s outside your organization, or simply outside your department or division to other parts of the company. This means watching for what’s happening out in the world that might present ways to expand your purpose or to fulfill it more effectively. What innovations are emerging? What problems still need to be solved? What are others in your space (competitors, collaborators, suppliers, customers) experiencing? What threats are looming that you need to prepare for?

All of these activities require that you spend at least some of your time reading, reflecting, and thinking, vs. getting caught up in day-to-day doing. Your output shifts from in-the-moment problem-solving to bigger-picture framing of ideas and direction. For someone who’s used to being in the thick of things, this can be an adjustment – but it’s one worth making if you want to have a greater impact.

If you’re curious about how working with a coach could help you think – and work – more strategically, learn more about our coaching program here. 

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