“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
I meet a lot of leaders who want to ‘do strategic planning’. They want to look out into the future, envision what they want to be as a business, then start working on getting there. It’s an admirable idea. The problem is that oftentimes they do this planning and can’t look out into the future, or envision what they want to be as a business, and they make no progress in getting there.
There are lots of reasons why that happens. But sometimes a very simple reason is the answer – the stuff that’s happening now gets in the way of what we want to happen in the future. We keep trying to make change with an eye on five years from now, but something that’s going to happen five minutes from now blocks the road.
The answer isn’t to try and ignore stuff that’s near. The answer is that sometimes, as long-term and strategic as you’d like to be, you have burning issues that need to be addressed first. You are physically and mentally incapable of looking beyond them – they’re causing too much pain today.
I’m not talking about things like ‘my computer is acting funny today’ or ‘we’re out of coffee in the break room’ kinds of issues. If that’s what’s in the way you’re doing a pretty poor job as a leader.
I’m talking about current events or circumstances that are taking so much of your energy that you don’t have any left for the big picture. Maybe you’re in the middle of a huge cash crunch, or maybe you’re having some kind of serious personnel issues, or maybe your life is out of balance.
Whatever it is, you’ve got to fix it before you can move on to bigger things. So accept that today may not be the day for thinking about 2025. It may be that for the next six months you need to focus on getting your today in order. Not only will you clear space to focus on the future, but you’ll gain some valuable insights into how your business and its people function.
You’re not a failure as a leader if your organization has some urgent cleaning up to do. But you’re failing as a leader if you ignore it and try to clean up tomorrow’s messes instead. Put out those fires first – if your house burns down you won’t have a tomorrow to worry about.
Much of the “noise” is due to the fact that we have not identified and resolved the strategic key issues in the business. There is no way of knowing that you have found the correct key issues so just do your best and start fixing things you think are strategic. The good news is that this activity will normally uncover more data and evidence which, on the second cut of the key issues, leads you to a higher probability of finding the root problems. Everything else is just a symptom that you have not yet addressed these root problems!