How HR Can Become A More Strategic Thinker

Tom Asacker : How HR Can Become a More Strategic Thinker and Leader

Analysing your efforts, communicating powerfully and pivoting as needed.

Key Takeaway

To be a strategic thinker means to fully recognise, consider and choose the best available ideas and actions, over time, in order to achieve a motivating vision.

“Great leaders are simply great guides on other people’s trips,” says Tom Asacker.

That is a powerful way of looking at your role within the company and of understanding what it means to lead. Tom Asacker has a rounded perspective on these issues, having a breadth of business development, marketing, management and operational expertise from prior managerial posts at GE as well as his entrepreneurial experience as a co-founder and President of a high-tech medical device company. Here, Tom discusses what leadership involves, what it means to communicate with impact and authenticity and what being a strategic thinker is about.


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As a teacher and strategic advisor to organisations and as someone who has started and led a business, what do you believe leading involves?

Tom : Leading is a simple, yet much misunderstood concept. It’s about defining a vision of the future based on a deep understanding of how the world presently exists, and how you imagine it should exist. And then it’s about communicating clearly, frequently and passionately, through both words and actions, in order to connect people with that vision in a powerful and motivating way.

So instead of fighting the existing reality, instead of trying to change people’s minds, they should figure out how to change the design of the organisation.

How does someone become a more strategic thinker? What are some of the thought processes a person should undergo to achieve this?

Tom : Since success in organisations is the result of a mutually beneficial exchange of value, the most important thought process is one that fosters deep empathy for your audience and relentlessly seeks out innovative approaches to help them achieve their desires in the context of your overall vision.

The corporate world is full of contradictions in terms of leadership role models, which means to say, that there are all kinds of leadership models. With that in mind, how best should a person lead taking into account their own personality and cultural context?

Tom : Einstein said, “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” People need a theory of leadership, a metaphor, that allows them to observe and evaluate their own behaviour, and which informs their decisions and actions. My theory is simple: Leaders are Sherpas. The root of the word “lead” means “to go forth, to travel.” Great leaders are simply great guides on other people’s trips.

Are there habits you believe that can help HR develop particular skills?

Tom : Let’s stay with the Sherpa metaphor. What makes someone a great guide? A few things: First, they know the terrain and the culture and so they know how to prepare the route and the logistics. But more importantly, they listen to, and work with, the climbers. They support them, keep them moving and on track, and remove obstacles. They don’t talk much. And they don’t stop to convene countless meetings. They allow the climbers to reach the summit through their own skill and will, successfully and safely. HR should look at their behaviours through that humble, servant lens.

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Accelerate Nov 2015As featured in the November 2015 issue of Accelerate Magazine. This article is locked for further viewing. Please consider subscribing to Accelerate to view this and many more great articles.

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