It is surprising and frustrating how many business leaders simply make it up as they go along. Entrepreneurs typically start with a core idea and then if they are lucky, they have some initial success that requires them to actually build a business delivery model. Many of them then become bogged down in the day to day operation and tasks required to fulfill their product or service commitments to their customers.
Since most companies typically start out undercapitalized and growth eats cash, they also get caught up in basic financial issues which can be a major leadership distraction. Next thing they know, they have a company on their hands and employees who expect to have a boss with a clue about the future and a strategic plan of action.
Remember, successful companies do not get that way by accident. They live in three horizons: today, tomorrow, and the future. Today is for managers. Leaders need to think bigger and longer term. Leaders are living in tomorrow and looking toward the future. Leading without this kind of vision is like trying to navigate a dense forest without a compass. It is easy to get lost and lose your bearings.
In my opinion, it is always preferable to work from the future backward. You need to have a clear picture of where you are going, why you are going there, and a roadmap on how to get there. The road may be bumpy at times and the route can change but the destination should remain fixed and constant. Everyone should know what success looks like in granular terms today, but they also should have a broader understanding of the overall impact of their work towards creating a better more secure future.
Tomorrow will not take care of itself. If you take your eye off the ball, then you leave your company vulnerable to the vagaries of the marketplace. You end up in reactive mode and yield the future to more proactive and thoughtful competitors. Markets have a cruel way of weeding out non-performers and myopic thinkers. The historic business landscape is littered with once highflying companies who became complacent and too deeply mired in the past or present.
On the contrary, the future is open to interpretation and ripe for initiative. The best leaders instinctively know that it’s not just what they do but where they are going that matters. Leadership destiny is rarely a matter of chance and usually a question of choice. You create your future or it will ultimately define you ways you might not like.
You should constantly be in a design and build mode. Never rest on your laurels or assume the solutions of the past will solve the problems of tomorrow. It’s important to be responsive, agile and flexible but only as it serves your vision of the future. Try your best not to be sidetracked by the urgency of now or obstacles of tomorrow. Get the operational and financial fundamentals right, keep true to your core values, hire good people, and let them do their job. Make sure you keep your eye on the road and what lies ahead not just on what you’re driving and whether or not you have enough gas to get there.