Are you a strategist — or a tactician?

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“You need to be more strategic.”

Many aspiring leaders hear this in a performance review or after giving a presentation. But what does it really mean? And how do you make the shift from being tactical to thinking and acting more strategically? How is it even possible if you don’t have anyone to delegate to?

“I started out as the ultimate tactician,” says Dona Munsch, vice president of Cloud Operations at NetApp. “I had this continuous drive to enjoy the intoxicating buzz of checking off things on my list.”

It is gratifying to conquer a to-do list, but if you aspire to move beyond your current role, you’ll need to think and act more strategically.  During a leadership webinar “Transitioning from Tactician to Strategist,” I asked Munsch to describe how strategists and tacticians operate differently. She shared three shifts in mindset to implement immediately, even if you don’t yet have direct reports.

1. What’s your time horizon?

Consider your current time frame as you go about your day-to-day work. If you want to be a strategist, not a tactician, each day, ask yourself: “What is my time horizon and where am I influencing? Is it for today, tomorrow, a year from now or five years from now? Am I being very tactical in what I’m doing, focused on today and tomorrow, or am I looking toward to things that will happen two years from now?” Shifting your attention away from the near future and focusing on the longer-term encourages you to become more forward thinking, visionary and strategic, Munsch says.

2. What’s the scope of your influence?

“You don’t have to be the one to do it to get it done,” Munsch notes. “You can accomplish a lot through influence. You don’t have to ‘own’ a team to participate in highly influential activities that make a difference.”

To expand your scope of influence, look for ways to build new relationships and expand your network, she advises. Are you working with a few team members who report to the same leader as you do? Or, are you influencing and working with a larger set, team to team, or with organizations that are not really part of your day-to-day role? Above all, are you developing your understanding of what life is like for them?

Ask yourself: “Is there something that I do in my role that could be of value to others? How can I help this person, their team or the organization be better?” The more you can understand what’s important to others and facilitate their success, the more skilled you’ll become at engaging them to collaborate with you to make things happen. That’s what influencers do.

3. What’s the extent of the change you are driving?

“The last part of being strategic is the degree of change that you’re looking to drive,” says Munsch. A tactician chips away at the kind of goals that don’t threaten the status quo or require them to build new networks or learn new skills. A strategist creates the type of ground-breaking change that requires a completely different way of thinking and operating.

“Another element that differentiates tactical execution from strategic action is what I would consider ‘irreversible change,’ a change that can’t be undone,” Munsch says. “To become more strategic, scale up your aspirations. Go after driving broad, sweeping change. Tell your story of where things are going to be five years from now, not what needs to be done today, and not what’s going to break tomorrow.”

If you really want to be a strategist, not a tactician, look to the future, expand your scope of influence and drive larger-scale change. How will you put these three actions to use?

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Jo Miller, a women’s leadership speaker and founding editor of, has hosted the NEW Leadership Academy webinar series since 2013.

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