• Home
  • Blog
  • Strategic Thinking in Leadership. How does it Work, Exactly?

Strategic Thinking in Leadership. How does it Work, Exactly?

June 30, 2023
Jaap Hollander

On to the benchmark!
This is part four of our series on the Leadership Mindset.

In the first article we discussed the four essential elements of leadership. We started from a compact, yet complete definition by Bill Clinton.

In the second article we constructed a vision benchmark defining the meta programs that make up the working parts of 'envisioning' so to speak.

In the third article, we were looking into the second element: strategywith Toyota and Martin Luther King as great examples.

In this fourth article we will construct a benchmark for strategic thinking. What are the nuts and bolts? What are the thinking style elements that together make up strategic thinking? And where can we see those in a MindSonar profile?

Strategy in MindSonar terms 
In the last article we saw that a leader needs both vision and strategy. Vision without strategy is just a dream, a fantasy. You wake up and you think: 'Too bad life isn't like that'. Strategy without a dream is like running your motor at top speed, but not - really - knowing where you want to go.  

What is strategy, expressed in the meta programs that MindSonar measures? We said that a good, realistic strategy

  1. Is a sequence of steps that brings the envisioned world 
  2. Addresses practical limitations
  3. Considers possible dangers
  4. Specifies actions for each step

When we are talking about considering limitations, we are talking about the thinking style element of mismatching: thinking about what is wrong with an idea.

When it comes to considering dangers, we are talking about the meta program away from: focusing on what you don’t want to happen.

Practical actions to execute steps are expressions of the meta programs specific. There is also a pitfall though: if the leader becomes involved in the specific details too much, they may get lost in micromanaging and lose sight of the bigger vision. Or even of the general sequence of the strategy. Here, the specific style of thinking needs to be balanced by enough general thinking. Martin Luther King, for instance, talks about "With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together". These actions are a lot more specific than just 'we will struggle together'. On the other hand, they aren't micro specific like 'We will pray together in the National Baptist Convention Church on St Marks Avenue in Brooklyn next Tuesday at 4 o'clock in the afternoon'.

In strategic planning the pathway towards the ‘common cause’ is laid out. Steps are distinguished. Alternative scenarios are defined. All this is more specific than the single direction that the vision describes. But from a leadership perspective, strategic planning is still fairly general, although not as general as a vision. Often three levels of specificity are distinguished in strategic planning:

Values describe how you do what you do. They are intimately linked to the vision. They define the organisation's culture. The strategic aspect of values is that they define in broad terms how you want to go about realising the mission. Toyota’s official values for instance,  are: imagination, experimentation, humility, respect and innovation.

An objective is a goal that will help actualise a value. Objectives are specific and preferably contain a deadline. Rule of thumb: for an objective the deadline is one year or more. An example of an objective is Toyota’s goal to establish factories in the USA.

An objective usually contains several projects. A project is a specific activity that will achieve the objective. Leaders tend to focus on objectives more than on projects. In the Toyota example this would be defining the right location for the factory, contacting a builder, setting up the production line, and so on.

Here too, there are balances. On the one hand the leader needs to be able to consider specifics when planning, in order to keep things realistic. On the other hand, they need to stay focused on the larger vision. A great example of a leader alternating between general and specific thinking is Barack Obama. In his famous speeches he will often talk about some very specific details, like mentioning a 104 year old black lady and all the specific black liberation events she has witnessed in her lifetime. Within minutes in the same speech, he will refer to a very general vision, like the US as a place for all citizens to realise their potential.

In MindSonar, a two-sided meta program is procedure versus options. On the one hand the leader needs to think in a procedural way when they are developing the strategy. on the other hand they want to keep perceiving new options. This is necessary to ‘respond to unforeseen opportunities when they arise’ (Clinton).

Strategy Benchmark

So in terms of what we can measure with MindSonar, what are we looking for in strategic planning?

  1. General thinking (Planning the pathway forwards in broad terms)
  2. Some specific thinking (Keeping the strategy realistic)
  3. A lot off towards thinking (Planning the pathway towards realising the mission)
  4. Some mismatching thinking (To asses limitations)
  5. Some away from thinking (To identify dangers)

So far, we had only taken the vision into account (in the first article) and now we are adding the strategy. In the next two articles we will refine our benchmark by adding the meta programs for the other two elements of the big four: engagement and resilience.

To add ranges to our strategy  benchmark, let’s say:

  1. General thinking > 7 - 9 points
  2. Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  3. A lot off towards thinking > 7 - 9 points
  4. Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points
  5. Some away from thinking > At least 2 points

Leadership audit part 2: Strategy
With this benchmark, focussing on strategy only and disregarding the other three elements for now, we can do another leadership audit. We can take any MindSonar profile for the context of ‘Leading X’ and compare it with our strategy benchmark. We can look at the similarities and differences to help us decide to what extent someone shows the strategy aspect of the leadership mindset.

TheMindSonar profile below is the same as the one in article 1: Jonas’ thinking style for the context of ‘Being VeganMarket Director’. This time we will look at his profile through the strategy benchmark lense.

When we check Jonas’ profile against our strategy benchmark, we see the following matches and mismatches:

  • General thinking > 7 - 10 points = Good (almost)
  • Some specific thinking > At least 2 points = Good
  • A lot off towards thinking > 7 - 10 points =Good
  • Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points = Good

From this audit we may conclude that Jonas has the right mindset for strategic thinking. As we can see from these two audits, Jonas’s challenges as a leader lie more in the area of vision than the area of strategy. So if we were coaching or mentoring Jonas, we would focus on vision and we would assume that he will do okay with strategy.

Combined Leadership Mindset Benchmark
When we combine the vision benchmark with the strategy benchmark, we arrive at this combination:


  • Future thinking > 7 - 9 points
  • Towards thinking > 7 - 9 points
  • Matching thinking > 7 -9 points
  • Visual thinking > 6 -9 points
  • Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 points
  • Internal reference thinking > 7 - 9 points
  • Internal locus of control thinking > 7 - 9 points


  • General thinking > 7 - 9 points
  • Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  • Towards thinking > 7 - 9 points
  • Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points

This concludes the fourth article on the Leadership Mindset. Next stop: engagement.

About the author 

Jaap Hollander

Psychologist, living in the Netherlands. Founded MindSonar in 1995. Directs MindSonar Global, which manages the ICT development, applications and the curriculum of the MS Certification Trainings. Working part time as a trainer, writer and coach as well as being an expressionist painter (artist name JAAPH, see jaaph.com). Has written 10 books on NLP and Provocative Coaching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}