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Future proof leadership

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

The most influential and effective leaders think about and invest in the future. It is easy to be distracted and focus on the latest emails and goings-on but addressing only today’s tasks, the latest fire drill or the latest demands will lead to you never being in control. Some managers go from one crisis to the next, one fire drill to the next because they don’t spend the time thinking about and investing in the future. I believe there is a better way.

Leaders invest in the future

Developing people, developing your team and working to improve the capability and performance of the people around you is, in my view, the ultimate form of long term influence. By developing people for the future, we are helping them grow and reach their potential. Aspiring leaders have a growth mindset and believe in developing the abilities of their people, which in turn improves the effectiveness of their team.

There is no single way to achieve this as people learn differently and have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses. Having this mindset is key and along with self-awareness will help you to spot opportunities to help your people. Leaders will

  • Do their utmost to give their teams what they need to succeed

  • Empower their people and give them responsibility

  • Think about their people in terms of potential not just current or historic performance

Predicting the Future

A key element within executive coaching is to raise the self-awareness of the client, as self-awareness is essential for improving our understanding of the environment that we are in and the challenges we face. Enhancing our awareness helps when making a self-assessment of our realities so that we are better able to achieve our goals and meet our potential.

Whilst coaching, I have found asking the following question to be helpful in unlocking particularly stubborn sessions as it is effective at raising higher-order self-awareness:

“What do you know today that you will find out in a year’s time?”

When confronted with obstacles or challenges we end up often misleading ourselves, wasting valuable time and energy because we deny the reality we face. The phrase wearing “rose-tinted” glasses is apt because we can often be overly optimistic when regarding the future. Armed with this increased self-awareness, a leader, can therefore think more effectively and change or refine their actions based on this advanced knowledge.

If only I could have come across this idea earlier in my career. The self-awareness it can generate would have saved me much time and effort. My plans, budgets and projections would have benefited from the additional challenge before being submitted, and hence their credibility and chance of a successful outcome increased.

We can apply this mindset more broadly at work, whether it is managing our teams or when reviewing requests and proposals.

A leader knows things today that they will find out in a years’ time

This question lends itself naturally as a form of self-diagnosis and can be used as part of your planning or budgeting process. It will help you challenge your teams and increase the credibility of their output.

I have also used this question to great effect when encouraging my teams to challenge the status quo. In these situations, in which the time horizon is typically shorter than a year, it has proven to be effective at spotting troubling developments before they morph into full-blown train wrecks that necessitate crisis management. By identifying problems in advance, you have more time to think and therefore produce better solutions than would be possible if you managed fire drill to fire drill which is all too common in business today.

Shadow of the Future

Within Game Theory, the "Shadow of the Future" refers to the idea that we behave differently when we expect to interact with someone repeatedly over time. Aspiring leaders believe in a long shadow of the future and so they approach each new situation and relationship not as a one-off but one where there will be repeated interaction and so cooperation and collaboration are important. Quick wins are important and sometimes essential but not at the expense of building something for the future.

Reverse Mentoring

Aspiring leaders recognise the value of continuous development in our fast-paced world, flooded with social media, new technology and the next big idea. They want insight and guidance to help them better face the future and one of the best places to obtain it is from the next generation. Aspiring leaders want to be reverse mentored.

You don’t have to be an older and more seasoned executive to benefit from reverse mentoring. I was reverse mentored for several years and my mentoring partnership started organically. I didn’t appreciate what was happening at first as the reverse mentoring partnership was so natural and informative. I was helped with a multitude of topics such as, productivity wins, new technology, what it is like to be a millennial and what it is like to be a young, women in a fast-moving, highly charged business environment.

As a mentee, this partnership was something that I came to value and it helped me to become a better leader. Amongst other things it helped me to reshape how I communicated to and empowered the more junior members of the team.

Compound benefits

The benefits of being an effective leader compound over time. By treating people with respect, investing your time and coaching your team a broad set of people will want more exposure to you. People will want to interact with you more and they will proactively help you because by doing so they make themselves better at the same time.

A leader is present in the now but values the future and hence invests with the future always in mind.

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