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Strategic thinker

Brain Circuits

A strategic thinker’s assessment: In which areas are you strongest or weakest? 

IbyIMD+ Published 1 February 2024 in Brain Circuits • 4 min read

Do you know your current strengths in strategic thinking? What about the areas that may require more work to elevate your leadership skills and drive success?

In the following questionnaire, the six groups of questions correspond to the six main disciplines of strategic thinking. As I put forward in my latest book, The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking, I believe these are all crucial for leaders steering their organizations effectively into the future.  Please be realistic as you answer the following 18 questions as a knowledgeable and thoughtful observer of your (and others’) abilities:

1. Pattern recognition

This concerns the ability to observe complex, uncertain, volatile, and ambiguous business scenarios, rapidly figure out what is and isn’t essential, and identify critical threats and opportunities.

Do you…

A. Identify emerging patterns or trends in business before others?

B. Integrate external insights, such as industry trends or academic knowledge, into your strategies?

C. Simplify complex situations to identify core issues?

2. System thinking

This concerns the ability to mentally model complex situations as systems and leverage those models to recognize patterns, make predictions, and develop promising strategies.

Do you…

A. Consider broader system impacts when making decisions?

B. Understand how different parts of the business interrelate?

C. Combine different ideas or “connect the dots” to generate deeper insight?

3. Mental agility

This concerns the ability to explore business challenges using different levels of analysis and to anticipate the actions and reactions of other stakeholders as they pursue their own goals.

Do you…

A. Adapt to new information or unexpected changes? 

B. Seek to learn and grow? 

C. Know when to focus on the big picture and when to get into the details? 

4. Structured problem-solving

This concerns the ability to lead your team through rigorous processes to frame problems, develop creative solutions, and make tough choices in the most effective ways.

Do you…

A. Seek data or other insights to test ideas and solutions?

B. Analyze and solve problems rigorously?

C. Evaluate the risks and rewards of decisions in uncertain situations?

5. Visioning

This concerns the ability to imagine potential futures that are ambitious and achievable and energize your organization to realize them. 

Are you…

A. Proactive in preparing for future challenges?

B. Developing strategic visions that are ambitious but achievable?

C. Communicating complex ideas in a way that your team can understand?

6. Political savvy

This concerns an understanding of how influence works in organizations and how to leverage those insights to build alliances with key stakeholders. 

Do you…

A. Maintain emotional equilibrium under stress or criticism?

B. Understand and consider others’ feelings and viewpoints in making decisions?

C. Reconcile the viewpoints and aspirations of key stakeholders?

Give yourself credit for all your yes answers and seek to improve where you answered no. For an interactive version of this assessment, with your results tabulated and scored, visit the online Strategic Thinking Assessment via Genesis Advisers, the private consultancy practice I co-founded.


Michael Watkins - IMD Professor

Michael D. Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Michael D Watkins is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD, and author of The First 90 Days, Master Your Next Move, Predictable Surprises, and 12 other books on leadership and negotiation. His book, The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking, explores how executives can learn to think strategically and lead their organizations into the future. A Thinkers 50-ranked management influencer and recognized expert in his field, his work features in HBR Guides and HBR’s 10 Must Reads on leadership, teams, strategic initiatives, and new managers. Over the past 20 years, he has used his First 90 Days® methodology to help leaders make successful transitions, both in his teaching at IMD, INSEAD, and Harvard Business School, where he gained his PhD in decision sciences, as well as through his private consultancy practice Genesis Advisers. At IMD, he directs the First 90 Days open program for leaders taking on challenging new roles and co-directs the Transition to Business Leadership (TBL) executive program for future enterprise leaders.


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