This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.
The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible and a 5) Strategic Learner. See this first blog post to get a quick overview and context. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.
The IDEAL LEADER is Visionary
- Has a vision for their life and work and engages mentors to hold them accountable
- Has a compelling reason to offer others to follow them either through both word and action
- Sees how to balance the longer view with the need for short term results
Had a sales manager tell me the other day…”thanks for paying attention to the strategic items that are really important. I want to make time, BUT….” (that 3 letter word that usually precedes a reason for NOT doing something)…you fill in the blank on the answer. This post is all about BOTH/AND and not about EITHER/OR. If you are leading an organization, team, family, or yourself; you better learn how to work in the present moment to get stuff done and also keep on task with the plan for the future.
We all know “this stuff”, but making it happen that’s the real deal. I’m not telling any sales manager or business owner trying to make their numbers for this fiscal year anything they don’t feel in their gut, bank account, or have already heard many times. Yet before we despair or settle on status quo…let’s see if we can’t move the needle on the dial a little more in your favor with this blog post. I could have easily declared this 3rd point as “being a strategic thinker”. I chose to keep it more broadly defined as a characteristic of balancing both thinking AND intuition. I am a strong advocate for leaders exercising strategic thinking, but I believe this is a tacit skill and not a leadership characteristic. Strategic thinking is an essential skill for a leader to develop. Strategic thinking is a discipline that is highly iterative and quite messy. That is to say, you must identify what is going on, what it means, and speculate what you might do about it almost simultaneously and not any of those in a particular order. This skill traverses across all time horizons.
My friend Allen Karlin is a leadership development professional with lots of experience in global leadership development. Allen gave me a “thumbs up” on the Coaching to Core Ideals concept. Along with his validation came some good feedback on this third characteristic under the Core Ideal of being VISIONARY. The balance between the long and short term items in life and business is the hardest part of being a leader…. His interpretation is the following…
“A visionary leader can see day-to-day tactical events clearly while having the ability to see the big picture – patterns of events – that shape the organization and the future.” –Allen Karlin
Have you ever experienced a leader that embodies this balancing act that Allen so capably described? A leader can almost appear magical, they make it look effortless. It could simply be called balanced thinking in one sense and yet that seems to miss the mark too. What makes this characteristic unique is that it’s tactical and intuitive. There is a polarity involved in the decision making and actions being taken. The head and gut, the long and the short view, the tactical and the intuitive… Have you played with any magnets lately?
If I interview one of these balanced leaders and ask how they do it; they quite often struggle articulating the concrete and tacit steps they take. I do see them embrace the “struggle” and I love supporting leaders in coaching conversations to interrogate this polarity of being a leader. It always yields greater awareness and higher likelihood of being able to practice being a balanced leader. I call this walking the thinking and intuition tight rope. We can wrongly believe we can think our way out of or into any solution for a problem. Business in these current times offers shorter time frames and faster transitions to shepherd through, so building enough information or data to make a well reasoned decision is becoming increasingly more difficult for leaders.
I’ve driven thousands of miles as a sales professional. I have taken safety driving courses. The biggest and yet simplest awareness you are taught as a driver is to stop focusing on just the bumper of the car ahead of you. You are told to look as far as you can to the next horizon. Why? Because your car is a moving object and “seeing ahead” will keep you out of trouble. The key point to this concept is trust your peripheral vision and constant scanning around your vehicle. You will see what’s going on in front of you immediately even though you are looking ahead.
The skills of driving safely saved my life more than once. A balanced leader will raise their line of sight and trust their peripheral vision to take care of the up close things while focus on the horizon. This balance requires faith and trust that is strengthened over time by better judgment. It will save your organization if you practice and commit to looking your business and people ahead of the game. Working with a professional coach can have huge ROI for leaders. The discipline that coaching brings requires you to dedicate regular time to stay in tune with your balancing act as a leader. A skilled coach will create a rich learning environment to broaden your perspectives.
Coaching a leader in this domain often involves getting them to raise their “line of sight”. You can’t keep your head up in the clouds and ignore the pressing needs of today. However, equally important is the idea that you can’t lead a team or organization with your head down, looking no further ahead than the tips of your toes. And this is the crux of the matter. Can you trust yourself to think and act in the best interest of your business and everyone depending on you as a leader? If not you then who will it be? Step out on the tight rope and start walking. It’s the only way you get your balance.