Seeing It First

Businessman with binoculars spying on competitors.As leaders, we have the rare privilege and responsibility of peering through the fog to view the destination ahead. We have to see it first, and then help our teams embrace the path if we are to have maximum impact for our organizations. Of course, the way forward is rarely clearly marked or smoothly paved — if it were, there would be no need for a leader! How, then, does one go about clearly seeing the destination so you can bring it into focus for your team?

  • You won’t find your path by looking behind you. It is good to understand where you have been, and how that experience has shaped your team’s skills and potential. However, once you have identified these things, looking harder at the past does nothing to illuminate the way forward.
  • Use your mission as a compass. There is so much noise out there today, telling you that you “have to” go one way or another . . . here is the easy path . . . this route has the surest funding . . . “everyone” is going this way . . . Listen to what others are saying, but check your compass before you choose a trail.
  • Robert Frost had it right. Sometimes taking the road less traveled can make all the difference in extending your mission reach. There is some degree of risk in virtually every decision. If you understand your team’s unique gifts and graces, and you are clear on your mission, what may look like a risky option to others may actually be the most calculated and reasonable path forward.
  • Look up! You can’t see the mountaintop by looking at your feet. There is a time for checking your footing, but that time is not when you want to bring the destination into focus. You can be standing in one spot and see two totally different things depending on which direction you are looking. Look up.
  • Describe it, in detail. A leader can often see things from his or her vantage point that are not obvious to those on the front lines. It is our job, once we see the destination, to describe it in such a clear and compelling way that our staff members can see it too and are excited to make the trip with us.

Regardless of how foggy it may seem, an opportunity is out there. Before an organization can rally its efforts toward reaching the destination, however, a leader has to see it first.

Check the Expiration Date

Bottle Of Milk

People have grown accustomed to checking the expiration date on things like meat or milk, to make sure they haven’t gone bad or soured. Far fewer people check the expiration date on their projects or new initiatives, however, these, too, can lose their freshness and impact if you wait too long to use them. What may have been a great idea at one point in time may become bland, or even leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth, if you wait too long to use it.

How does one check the expiration date on an idea or project?

  • How long have you talked about it? This isn’t an automatic rule-out. Sometimes you can be incubating an idea for a long time. One factor to consider is whether the idea has evolved and changed over time, or if you are still talking about it in general, nonspecific terms, retreading the same ground time and again. Which leads me to the second test of an expiration date . . .


  • Do you use the word “should” when describing the idea — as in “we really should be doing this.” Fresh ideas aren’t something you should do. Fresh ideas light up the room, they feel like something you have to do, not because someone is telling you to, but because you feel in your gut that the idea can in some way be a game changer that will help extend your mission reach.


  • Is everyone else already doing it? That doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do it, but it’s a little bit like buying something that has been reduced for quick sale. The impact is likely to be far less that if you had implemented the idea when it was first available.


  • Has it “gone bad in the frig?” These are the ideas that you have said you want to pursue — you “bought” it — however, your process of getting to implementation takes so long that the expiration date may have passed, but people feel they have no choice but to continue on because so much work went into the preparation.

As the leader, it is your job to check the expiration date on ideas or projects. That can be harder than it sounds because perhaps you pushed for an idea at one point in time — you could clearly see the potential — but you now realize the window of opportunity has closed. The expiration date has passed. When that happens (and it will), you can watch wistfully as someone else enjoys the benefits of the once fresh idea, or you can focus your energy on looking forward and preparing to tackle the next new opportunity . . . before it expires.

Making Pie

Apple And Pear Pie

There is an old, rather ragged-looking, but very prolific pear tree in our yard. No matter how wet or dry the year, this old tree cranks out buckets and buckets of pears. Until recently, we just sort of accepted the tree as part of the yard. The dogs liked the pears, it was a bit of a pain to mow around, but all in all we didn’t really think much about it . . . until this year, when my husband gave an acquaintance a bucket of pears and to show her thanks, she gave us a pie . . . pear pie. Amazing!

Pear pie??? That’s the reaction of nearly everyone I mention it to. Virtually no one has heard of pear pie. But believe me, just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea! Yes, I now have started making pear pies, and exposing others to the joy of this unique dessert . . . and more importantly, I have now recognized, and am starting to capitalize on, the unique resource I’ve had right under my nose for more than 16 years.

How often do we do that in our own organizations . . . ignore the unique resources that are right under our noses? Maybe it’s land or buildings that could be used differently, or people with special skills, or a way of viewing the world that allows you to see pie when others only see a ratty old tree. Sure people will tell you that you’re crazy, that they’ve never heard of such a thing . . . that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea!

Every organization has it’s pear trees. They are usually not flashy. They won’t jump up and down to get your attention, they’ll just faithfully hang in there waiting to be discovered. As the leader of such an organization, it is your responsibility to either discover your hidden (or at least not noticed) fruit-producers, or at the very least, listen to your own explorers/dreamers/crazy-thinkers when they share ideas about the potential they see in a resource that is already in your midst.

Is every idea a winner? Of course not. (My attempts to make bread from the fruit of the paw paw tree in our yard being a prime example.) But that doesn’t mean you stop exploring new possibilities! That doesn’t make it okay to get stuck in the rut of seeing things the same way as every other organization. It simply means that idea didn’t work. And there are plenty more out there . . . ideas, I mean. You just have to be willing to see what’s before you with new eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time for you to start making pie.