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.

Squawk Your Way to Success

Red-haired Preschooler Boy With Violin, Music Concept

Think back to when you (or a child, or a sibling) were learning a new skill — say playing a musical instrument. While there are a few child prodigies out there, most of us had to squeak and squawk our way to something that sounded remotely like the tune we had in mind. Whether or not you believe Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours to become world class” rule, the fact remains that most of us aren’t proficient at a new skill the first time we try it.

We intuitively grasp that concept with kids, and encourage them through the skill development process. But somehow with adults, we have much less tolerance. You’ve been promoted to a new role . . . Great! . . . Now here are the 47 things we are backed up on so go out there and do amazing things . . . Really? And then we wonder why 1) people fall short of our expectations, and 2) staff, who are trying hard to succeed with the task at had, are hesitant to speak up to remind us they are still squeaking and squawking in their new role.

Or what about the innovation/transformation/new program development process? We can spend all the time we want perfecting the plan on paper, but rest assured there will be some “missed notes” along the way. Sure, we’ve all heard the “fail early/fail fast/fail forward” philosophies, but do we actually apply them to our endeavors or do we expect that we (and our people) will be the exception to the rule and get it right the first time? And what is our response when that doesn’t happen?

Any time we are learning a new skill, squawking is part of the process. The difference between those who succeed and those who fall short of the goal is that the first group wades through the discomfort of the learning process to the proficiency on the other side. Unfortunately in many cases the second group decides it’s too hard/they don’t have the time or patience/there is no tolerance for the errors that are bound to happen when learning something new and thus choose not to move forward. They may not squawk, but they don’t get to learn any new songs either.

Going through the squawking stage is usually not very fun. It can feel like things will never get better, like you’re never going to get it right. And then you do. All of a sudden things start to click, the path forward clears and the goal is within reach. Only then do you realize that the stumbling along the way is part of the process. So plan for it, expect it, then take a deep breath and squawk your way to success.