Monday, July 28, 2008

So What Are You Going to do About it?

We would never get on an aircraft or a train without knowing what the destination was, would we? As a society we spend a lot of time worrying about destinations and end games and what the final outcome is supposed to be.

It is important to have a vision about the end state. What is the deliverable? Where we are going? Maybe even knowing why we are going there. How does it help the team or meet an objective?

Leading teams requires the leader to look out ahead and see the objective as well as the obstacles. Foresee the dangers that need to be overcome.

In church this Sunday, the message was based on Proverbs 22:3.

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. (NIV)

And it struck me--leaders need to be able to see into the future, recognize the danger AND take action. Three very important things.

Most of us can tell the difference between the light at the end of the tunnel and the headlamp of the oncoming train--but the critical aspect is: so what are we going to do about it?

Asking the "what are we going to do about it?" question is what separates successful from unsuccessful leaders.

The successful leader sees the danger or the obstacle AND develops mitigation strategies and plans for the impending activity. At the same time, the leader keeps the team informed of the activity—both the obstacle/danger and the mitigation strategy. This is a critical aspect of transparency—which leaders need to minimize panic and rumors.

Leaders who are "heads-down" and just worrying about the day-to-day operations may see the danger/obstacle, but like the simple person in the Proverb, don't take action until it is upon them. Then they pay the price for not thinking into the future. Usually that price is very high and could be failure or at a minimum a serious delay in achieving the desired end state.

One of the traits that separates adults from children is the ability to foresee consequences, the future ramifications of an action or an inaction. Children, like the simple, tend to be in the moment and unaware of the consequences of their actions or inaction. They are willing to let life come at them and have the love and comfort of their parents to bail them out of the scrapes and to protect them from dire consequences which occur from their inability to see into the future.

Leaders must depend upon themselves and their teams to foresee consequences and to take action.

Another aspect of leadership based upon this Proverb to consider is the idea: Is what the team doing today working towards the desired end state or what the team needs to be doing in the future?

Good leaders know where the team is supposed to be headed and what the desired end state is. If the team is spending a lot of energy and not making progress to achieving the end state, then the leadership needs to intervene and get the forward momentum moving again. The cost for spinning wheels too long is failure.

This is a lot like life--I have a dream about what I want my retirement to be like. Unless I take action to align my current and future actions to achieve that dream it will be nothing more than that. But, if I take positive action and evaluate today and tomorrow in terms of my desired end state--then my dream will become my reality!

It is hard to take control of a out of control situation--but that is the call of leadership. Leaders who are unhappy about what the team is doing are not leading. They are following or have become victims. Leaders lead. Leaders need vision. Leaders need to implement the means to achieve the vision and to overcome the dangers/obstacles on the along the way.

See the future, develop mitigation strategies, take action.

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