When I talk to senior leaders in organizations of all sizes, the leadership competency that continues to come up is that companies need leaders to think strategically. What does that look like? What is a strategic business partner?

Let’s first look at what it’s not. A strategic leader does not think like this:

  • Right now, I’m so busy leading my team; I have to stay focused on the forest in front of me.
  • I don’t have time to listen to another department’s problems.
  • My division/department’s needs should be viewed as more important than the others.

One leader I talked with described it like this: “I need leaders that look past their desk.” He needs leaders who think about more than what’s in their immediate work area.

To advance and grow professionally in an organization, you can’t stay focused on your little slice of the pie because there’s always more to it. For example, everyone’s in business to make money, but the decision is never just about the numbers—there’s always more.

As leaders, we should always have a bias toward action. Look over these beginning steps and pick one to implement in the next 30 days.

  1. Get to know your peers in other departments; initiate a 15-minute conversation over coffee, meet in the break room for a brown bag lunch, or set up a virtual “Taco Tuesday” event with someone. Ask about their greatest challenges and take lots of notes. Begin to think about how you can solve larger company problems within your division.
  2. Think of what this issue looks like from someone else’s chair—or in another division. Start with Suggestion #1 and ask them what it looks like.
  3. Think of where your work is when it’s not on your desk. If it’s stuck somewhere, find out how you can help it get unstuck.
  4. Find out how you can help other departments and individuals achieve their goals. This means having to know the goals of departments and individuals (refer to Suggestion #1).
  5. Be open to the idea that your budget item may get canned to support another, more important priority. If it happens, work hard to understand the rationale and support the decision.

As a leader, you have to look past your desk. Don’t get so focused on “your thing” that you miss the strategic implications of your role.