The dictionary definition of leadership in Webster’s dictionary defines leadership as follows:
1 : a person who leads : as a : GUIDE, CONDUCTOR b (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence c (1) : the principal officer of a British political party (2) : a party member chosen to manage party activities in a legislative body (3) : such a party member presiding over the whole legislative body when the party constitutes a majority.
If you notice, in this definition you will see words like lead, guide, correct, manage, and conduct. Planning is not contained anywhere within the definition. I am not surprised. Why not? It’s quite simple. The one quality that I have found most prevalent is that many leaders do not have well-articulated and developed plans – if they have any at all. It is shocking.
When I ask leaders about their short term plan, the answers are fairly clear. The answer however, is quite different when I ask about mid and long term plans. When I ask that question, I get confused looks, mumbled statements, and excuses. So let me ask you: could you clearly articulate your short, mid, and long term plans? If you hesitate in answering this question you are in my opinion failing as a leader. In my mind, one of the most critical aspects of leadership is having a short mid and long term plans.
Why it Matters
According to research, most people don’t have goals on a personal level. Author Cynthia Kersey (In the book Unstoppable) found that most people interviewed did not have goals. She was shocked to discover that only 3 percent of the folks interviewed had goals and only 1 percent of them had them in writing. If this is the case – then we, as leaders, need to help fill the void – at least by having a plan for the team at work. Who knows? Maybe when they use disciplined planning at work- it will inspire them to create plans for their own lives at home!
Mid Term Planning
The first area to think about is mid-term planning. I see many people in leadership roles who are so worried about today, tomorrow, this week, and this quarter that they do not have the time to sit down and plan for the mid-term.
I define mid-term planning as a time frame of the next 12 to 18 months. Again, the mid-term plan should be in writing, well-articulated, and well defined.
I guarantee that if you practice short and mid-term thinking you’ll have increased respect from your team and from those to whom they report.
Next, let’s move to the great often unexplored territory: that of long term thinking.
I remember the turmoil that was created at the Walt Disney Company when Walt Disney passed away. The executives who took over the company struggled scratching their heads and asking the question, “What would Walt do?” Apparently, Walt had not left the long term plan in place either in writing or verbally for the company.
I define long term planning as a plan which incorporates a time frame of 5 to 10 years. When I ask executives how many of them have a 5 to 10 year plan for their companies, for their teams, or for themselves in 99% percent of the cases I find that the answer to the question is a clear no. If you’re going to effectively lead a team or organization you need to be at 30,000 feet looking at the horizon and determine where the journey is taking you and the team.
Here are three potential liability areas to watch for when doing long term planning:
- Clear the Cynics From the Room: make sure when you have team meetings, that the cynics are not part of the process. I have seen many a meeting for long term planning where cynics have said “That will never work” or “We’ve never done that before“ or “That really is a crazy idea”. If you want to see the positive energy quickly sucked from the room, allow the cynic to have a voice.
- Don’t Let the Past Own the Future: when looking at the future, you certainly want to be aware of the past. But you don’t want the past to own the future. Just because you haven’t done something in the past doesn’t mean you can’t now.
- Think Big: one of the characteristics that I see in leaders (which is in my mind somewhat disturbing) is that they do not think big enough. Their expectations of the future are too low and they allow people to limit their thinking. When the leader’s thinking is limited, the team’s thinking will be as well. Great leaders push organizations to reach their highest level of potential and get them to think differently about the organization and the team.
Those are some things to consider as relates to the short, mid, and long term thinking. Here’s a question I get asked very often: “Why should I spend so much time thinking about all this when it is entirely possible that the plans will change?” Well, the answer is quite simple. As a leader, it is much better to have a plan than not to have a plan. Yes, plans can change in today’s fast-paced world. However, I find that leaders who have the greatest strength of conviction and leadership ability are the ones who have a solid vision of the future in the short, mid, and long term. Lastly, you will certainly be much more successful if you have a clue!
I think Napoleon Hill, author of the book Think and Grow Rich said it best:
“Every well-built house started in the form of a definite purpose plus a definite plan in the nature of a set of blueprints.”
So what is your blueprint?
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