There is a scenario that happens fairly often in my work with business leaders. I will ask them to tell me about the past, where their business has been, what has happened recently and what their current challenges are. They can usually talk for quite a while explaining the past and even longer as they talk about their current situation and the issues they are facing at the moment. I get incredible detail about the people and problems that are keeping them from achieving success. Then I ask them about their future. What often comes out of that part of the conversation is undefined and ambiguous. It is a series of vague aspirations. Leaders who follow this pattern spend most of their time thinking about their past and their present but my question may have triggered the first focused thought about the future in quite some time.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from leaders is that they do not have time to plan for where the business is going because they are spending all of their time fighting the fires of today. My question to those leaders is how do you know which fires to fight and how to best fight them if you do not know what success looks like? Priority for many leaders is determined by what is causing the most pain, not what will capture the greatest opportunities. That’s a recipe for business stagnation.
Think about some of the friends you have or people you have known. Do you have those friends who spend all of their time thinking about the past- the good old days in high school or college or a job they used to hold. These people spend most of their future trying to re-capture what they once had. Then there are the friends or acquaintances that always seem mired in getting through the day or the week. These people cannot wait for Friday. They slog through their days and their focus is on surviving the next 12 hours or the next 5 days. Sometimes these two groups even consist of the same people. They slog through the present, while reminiscing about the past.
But I bet you can also think of a few individuals who are always thinking about the next opportunity. They are talking about what life will be like in a few months or a few years. They are focused on what lies ahead and they are constantly envisioning it, reshaping it and working toward it.
Which one of those groups would you say represent the most successful people you know? Which one of those groups is the happiest? Which one of those groups would you more readily follow or hire to lead a team?
Having “future thinkers” among the leaders in a business is essential. That does not mean that those people spend their day daydreaming while the building is on fire. But it does meant that devote a large amount of their time planning the future so they know what success looks like for themselves and the organization, and can make their way toward it. How you solve the problems of today can be very different depending on where you want to go just as if you are driving and encounter a traffic jam, how you detour around it is completely determined by where you want to end up.
Find a way to carve out time for future thinking, even if you have to schedule it on the calendar. Create a future journal where you design what lies ahead in crystal clear detail. Hold meetings that are spent mostly on where you are going and not just reviewing the problems of today. The time is yours, the thoughts are yours, and the choice on how you spend them is yours.
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