8 Ways to Get Beyond Feedback that "You're Not Strategic!"

#bebusinesssavvy #strategicacumen Jan 01, 2024

Unpack Feedback that You're "Not Strategic"

TLDR: There are 4 major reasons why women hear the criticism, "You're not strategic." This article covers each of the 4 and then suggests 8 questions to discuss with your manager to gain a clearer understanding of what s/he meant by the feedback, "you're not strategic."

Senior level women tell us that one of the most common pieces of feedback they hear is, “You're not strategic.” Most of them fundamentally take exception to the statement without truly understanding the message(s) behind the feedback. And, most often the feedback includes no actionable specifics about what’s behind the comment. If this is your situation this article is for you.

Many women don’t understand the reality that “what you see depends on where you stand.” If this is you, you don't always see that your leadership behaviors look different to you than they do to those above you. You feel strategic because you:

  • Understand the big picture of their function, BU or overall business

  • Have cutting edge ideas for enhancements, new business opportunities, transformations

  • Follow trends in the external environment

  • Build cross-functional, cross-BU, external relationships to import innovative ideas

What you often don’t see - because you often get no feedback at all - is that in the eyes of those above you these actions are expected and that being “strategic” means more. Depending on your level it can mean that they are expected to:

  • Execute corporate strategy with commitment

  • Visibly align team goals and actions to corporate strategy

  • Be able to propose an innovative idea with a financial business case built in alignment with corporate strategy

  • Give input to strategy development with a financial business case behind it

  • Develop strategy to further the financial goals of the business and position the business in its marketplace

4 Reasons Why Women Rarely Hear About Strategic Acumen

Why do women rarely get actionable feedback about being strategic?

First, because women rarely get actionable feedback at all. *

And, when they do they most often receive negative feedback that is personality-based.


Second, most managers take the need for strategic acumen as a “given” and expect it to be developed through mentorship (more infrequently given to women) and positions (e.g. close and in the core of the business). As I discuss in my TED Talk, when I’ve used the framework of my leadership definition to ask executives what it takes to be seen as promotable, they easily cite personal greatness and skills at engaging the greatness in others.

 When I then ask, ‘What about: understanding the business, an ability to make decisions based on financials, or capability to set and/or execute strategy?’ they respond, “That’s a given.’”

Third the formal feedback women get rarely speaks to strategic acumen. Why? As discussed in my article 8 Tips for Coaching Executive Women, most of the feedback-supporting assessments, leadership models and performance review criteria “relied upon by managers and coaches over-measure P (Personal greatness) and E (Engaging the greatness in others) capabilities and under-measure O. Across dozens of corporations, questions related to business, strategic and financial acumen (O) accounted for an average of only 24% of the feedback subjects receive.”

Fourth, you might have had access to assessments such as MBTI, Strengths Finder, DiSC, etc. As discussed in the 8 Tips article, these invaluable tools, as with corporate resources, unfortunately over-measure P (Personal greatness) and E (Engaging the greatness in others) and under-measure O (including business, strategic & financial acumen). Which means that you have very few resources for unpacking the comment on lack of strategic acumen that you've heard from your manager.

What’s an Woman to Do?

Strategic acumen is one part of The Missing 33% of the career success equation for women. Not because women don’t or can’t have strategic acumen, but because they are less likely to be coached to develop and demonstrate strategic acumen. Here are X follow-up questions you can ask your manager in order to unpack feedback you've received in relation the the crucial Business Savvy skill of strategic acumen:

  1. I'd like to understand in more detail what you mean when you say that I'm not strategic.

  2. Who around me could I look to as a role model for greater strategic acumen and what would I notice about him/her?
  3. Are there any times when you've seen me be strategic and how could I build on them?
  4. What opportunities to demonstrate strategic acumen have I missed? What experience, knowledge, skills do you suggest I gain in order to better demonstrate my strategic acumen?
  5. Here are some ways I've worked to align my team to our strategy <insert a few short examples>. Have you been aware of them? If so, how am I falling short in terms of being strategic?
  6. How do you perceive the recommendations that I've made in the strategy planning process <or some other example where you think you've been strategic>? How have I fallen short and hat experience, knowledge, skills do you suggest I gain in order to become more strategic?
  7. There are several components to strategic acumen. Which of these are most important for me to work on next?
    • Understanding the iterative interactions among external forces, financial targets and internal capabilities.
    • Better tracking external forces to recognize, elevate and address threats and opportunities.
    • Better connecting my ideas to the financial realities of our business and making a sound business case for them.

I hope that you will create a robust conversation with your manager using these or similar questions. When you do so, remember, it's all about stepping into her/his shoes to gain clarity on his/her understanding of what it means to be strategic. It's not staying in your shoes to defend your understanding!

Catch you next time,


PS Was this of value to you? Share the content with a colleague or friend so she can benefit as well.

Go Deeper Links:

For related information

  • * https://www.fastcompany.com/3034895/the-one-word-men-never-see-in-their-performance-reviews

  • * https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-reasons-women-dont-get-the-feedback-they-need-11570872601

  • * https://hbr.org/2016/04/research-vague-feedback-is-holding-women-back

  • * https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/managers-give-women-less-feedback-gender-bias-in-performance-reviews/

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