The Red Lion Institute, Inc. Founder Sharmila Fowler Shares How to Be a Strategic Thinker and an Effective Communicator

Sharmila Fowler is the Founder of The Red Lion Institute, Inc. She is a Master Certified Professional Coach, Certified Myers Briggs-Trainer (MBTI®), Certified Professional Resume Writer, and a Member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Strategic Planning from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Computer Science/Mathematics from the University of Rochester.

Here is what Sharmila had to say when we asked her about strategic thinking and effective communication:

What is strategic thinking? 

First, I want to differentiate between strategic thinking and strategic planning. Strategic thinking is the act of generating insights and applying them to decisions in business or life. Strategic planning is the process of taking those insights and making them actionable. When we think about strategic thinking, it’s all about the “why” and the “what.” Why should I care about this? What happens if I don’t make a decision? What are the outcomes I want? Strategic thinking is all about the “how” and the “when.” You need strategic thinking before you can begin strategic planning. 

How can young women develop strategic thinking skills in high school and college?

Strategic thinking encompasses a variety of skills. Some people are more inclined to think strategically than others, but these skills can be developed and honed. One way is to become more curious. Constantly ask questions, and then search for the answers. Use the Internet! Be comfortable saying you don’t know something, but that you can figure it out through research. Another way is to develop your creativity skills. Not everyone is going to be a professional artist or painter, but you can experiment. Pick an activity you enjoy and embrace it. I bought an iPad and use the Procreate app to draw. I’m not entering my work into a contest! However, I am creating new connections in my brain that allow me to innovate more. Finally, practice critical thinking. Engage in pattern recognition. Do crossword puzzles or play Words With Friends. Try anything that allows you to look at patterns to see the larger picture.

How can you highlight your strategic thinking skills on your resume, during an interview, or when you are new to a team? 

If you have a section titled “Skills” on your resume, list some of the components of strategic thinking there. You could list creativity, problem-solving, or innovation, to name a few. Before an interview, take the time to craft stories about yourself that illustrate how you have used these skills in certain situations. Employers hire people who question things, want to learn, and think outside of the box. Then, when you are new to a team, continue to demonstrate these skills on the job. 

What are three ways to be an effective communicator? 

One, understand your purpose. Why are you communicating? Are you leading a meeting? Giving a presentation? Once you know your reason for communicating, come up with a succinct and effective way to convey your message. Two, listen. Communicating isn’t all about talking. When you are having a conversation with someone, really engage. Interpret, synthesize, and analyze what they are saying. Respond only after you reflect upon what was said. Three, use the appropriate body language. Sitting or standing up tall and looking someone in the eyes when they are speaking shows that you are paying attention and are invested in the conversation. Don’t be afraid to smile either! A smile suggests warmth and compassion. 

How can you adapt your communication style to specific environments, such as an interview, a group project, or a presentation?

It is absolutely key to know your audience. Do your homework upfront—know who you will be speaking to and what their needs are. This helps direct what you are going to say and how you can say it. Also, provide relevant examples. For instance, if you are speaking to elementary school kids about climate change, you can talk to them about how they can help the environment by using less water to brush their teeth. If the audience is high school seniors, you can talk about encouraging kids to drive less. 

What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your career journey?

I wish I had been more self-aware earlier in my life. It’s important to know your strengths, your motivations, your interests, your skills, and your personality as you embark and advance in your career. Optimizing these various dimensions of yourself can help you get where you want to go. 

Sharmila Fowler is the Founder of The Red Lion Institute, Inc. where she offers career coaching, career advisory, diversity coaching, and leadership development to students and professionals, supporting them in planning, powering, and pivoting their careers. She brings inspiration, empathy, positivity, and a strategic mindset to help each client discover their “inner red lion.” She is a Master Certified Professional Coach, Certified Myers Briggs-Trainer (MBTI®), Certified Professional Resume Writer, and a Member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Strategic Planning from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Computer Science/Mathematics from the University of Rochester. She is the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award. Sharmila has significant experience in diversity & inclusion, multicultural marketing, and global business development. Her passion is to understand human behavior through a cultural lens whether it is in the workplace, the marketplace, or the community space. Most recently, she was a Global Director in McDonald’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group. Previously, she led Asian American marketing for McDonald’s U.S. Sharmila has also held senior-level roles in the multicultural marketing research and consulting industry where she worked with leading Fortune 500 firms, ethnic advertising agencies, and ethnic media firms in the areas of research and strategy. Sharmila is active on several boards and committees. She serves as a Board Member for the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, a Board Member and VP Membership for ASCEND Midwest, and as an Advisory Member on Nielsen’s External Advisory Council (for Diversity). Previously, she was on the National Board of ASCEND and was an Officer and Board Member of the Asian American Advertising Federation (3AF).

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