Are You Leading for the Future?
I recently asked a group of executives who they were grooming to lead their company in 20 years. They gave me blank stares as answers. “We are worried about next quarter. We are not even worried about next year.” Exactly. And that is the problem. Many executives are so busy worrying about the short-term that they take their eye off the ball. Results in the short-term are based on strategic work set up years ago. If leaders today are not looking at the long-term, they are doomed to fail. What can a leader do to make sure he or she is staying focused on the long-term? Develop and maintain a positive vision. Leaders need to know where they are going in order to direct other people to get there as well. They need to lead the momentum that propels an organization to better products, more complete services, and solves customer difficulties. Be a problem-solver for future customers. Great leaders help their teams discover solutions to problems even before customers realize that they have an issue that can be fixed. How can you help your teams plan for the future? Start by asking: How is your team identifying future buying trends? Where are your future markets? Who is your future consumer? What is your team doing to predict possible future customer needs? How can you fill those needs? Grow tomorrow’s leaders today. I recently asked a group of executives what they were doing to groom the future leaders of their company. “Who is going to be the CEO in the next 20 years?” We have to train our future workforce to lead the organization in 5, 10, and 20 years. Many executives today are more worried about their own careers than the matriculation of their employees. This is both shortsighted and the sign of an insecure leader. Great leaders make sure that they:
- Provide continuous, applicable training for employees at all levels. Innovative ideas come from all levels in an organization. Employees who have more skills creatively problem-solve, look beyond their own levels of responsibility, and perform better.
- Encourage employees to take advantage of opportunities to explore other parts of the organization and learn about as many aspects of other departments as possible. Understanding how manufacturing works makes a sales team stronger. Experiencing how long it takes to design a new marketing campaign helps operations. Knowing how the organizational pieces fit together gives people perspective, appreciation for employees in other divisions, and helps employees develop into wise decision-makers.
- Mentor for the person, not for the organization. Leaders work to develop their employees to be leaders as well. One manager lamented, “But if I develop my team leaders too well, they are going to leave me.” (Yes. And based on that attitude, this executive’s employees should move onto their next job as quickly as possible.)
Managers should be genuinely excited when their workers are promoted, even when those promotions might take them to another company. Being a good mentor is like planting crops. You do it for your own harvest, but some of the seeds will land in other places. This is normal and healthy and it contributes to overall growth. Be happy for your employees. Help your peers. We often neglect to look around and provide help to people who are not in our hierarchy, whether up or down. Look sideways. Look left and look right. Help your peers by sharing information, ensuring that your teams are meeting deadlines, staying on top of multi-dimensional projects, lending assistance, and providing encouragement. Great leaders manage today’s issues, but they are also constantly focused on long-term strategies, sustainable development, and long-term growth, of both the organization and the people who make it succeed.