Where you look is where you go

If you examine any organization’s results, you might be tempted to think dead-ends, surprises, and frequent strategy changes are due to things beyond the leader’s control – like the economy, business cycles, the wrong staff, the wrong suppliers, and so on. To a certain degree, these elements certainly affect the stability of the business. Yet there’s another element that plays an even bigger part – and it’s fully in the control of the leader.

Imagine for a moment that your organization is a bicycle, and you are the rider. If you only focus on the front wheel, the bicycle will be wobbly and unstable and it’s only a matter of time before you crash into something. If instead you look where you want to be – that is, down the road – your ride will naturally smooth out and you can easily dodge those parked and moving obstacles. In other words, the job of a leader, just like a bike rider, is to look ahead to see what’s coming.

When a business leader focuses only on day-to-day details, the organization will be wobbly and unstable – experiencing things like surprise product flops, unexpected competition, and derailed marketing campaigns –endless shifts in direction that drive staff crazy!

So why do leaders do this?

Because it feels easier and safer for us to focus on the day-to-day stuff. It’s something we know and it’s something we can control.

In contrast, setting direction is hard. You don’t really know if what you’re doing is right, and you know you have yourself to blame if the direction is wrong. Yet as a leader you must be the one to look at the big picture and set the organizational direction, because no one else has the authority to do so.

As a leader, you must continually focus ahead of your comfort zone, so you can lead the organization to get where it needs to go.

10 minutes to better leadership

Exercise 1:

  • Get out a piece of paper or open a fresh Word document and jot down the last five things you focused on. Was it public relations? A proposal for a new client? Defining the color scheme for a new brochure?
  • Now, assign a value to each item on the list: long-term, medium-term, or short-term. Do you see a trend? If it’s long-term, great! You’re on the right track. If it’s medium-term, think about how you might be able to shift even more into future thinking. If the trend is short-term, it’s time to rethink your focus.

Exercise 2:

  • Ask a trusted colleague or two how they see the organization primarily focused: short-term or long-term. How people perceive the direction of your organization will tell you a lot about where you are focusing as a leader.

Read about how one leader got it right. Check out this week’s blog post.

To learn more about services we provide to help leaders succeed, click here or give us a call at 970.672.4749.

Chris Hutchinson