Posted by: dstieglitz | October 28, 2014

FUTURE THINKING

“Leaders aren’t born.  Just like anything else, they are made through hard work.

 That is the price we must pay to achieve our goals.”    –  Vince Lombardi

      Warren Bennis, who died in July at the age of 89, pioneered leadership as a business discipline. He said managers seek to do things right, while leaders focus on doing the right things. Managers guide organizations to reach goals, while leaders choose goals. Managers focus on the bottom line, while leaders look to the future to ensure the organization thrives in times of change. Bennis held that leaders are made, not born since leadership is a skill that must be learned. Further, the elements of good leadership evolve over time. In today’s workplace, you can’t bark like a drill sergeant and expect people to jump. You must mentor and coache. Authoritative leadership risks alienating people and squandering an organization’s most precious resource: its collective knowledge. Why hire top-flight knowledge workers unless you let them use their knowledge creatively.

       Manager or Leader? Leaders and managers operate with different priorities. As I review my career, I see that I lean toward management. Which way do you lean? As a manager, I make things run smoothly by streamlining processes, applying resources efficiently, and using performance metrics. By contrast, effective leaders present a vision for the future. They grow an organization by moving it in new directions. There is no right or wrong here. Clearly, an organization needs both leadership and management to succeed consistently. What is important is that you understand yourself and the leanings of those around you.

      Over Managing. When executives over manage, they get mired down in old issues instead of shaping a better future.  Congress is a prime example.  Consider a tax system that isn’t competitive in a global economy, immigration policies that just plain don’t work, infrastructure that is insufficient and falling apart, and an educational system suited for a by-gone industrial era. Sadly, this month’s election is unlikely to change that. Government has difficulty shaping the future largely because it is organized into components whose priorities are self-preservation and reelection. To the contrary, shaping the future requires systems thinking that molds current trends into a preferable future. Future thinking doesn’t fit easily into traditional corporate structures either. Furthermore, most business education programs prepare students to manage the present, rather than to lead in a turbulent business environment.

       Shaping the Future. It’s time for leaders in government and industry to shape the future. We are at a crossroads in history where the accelerating rate of change is overwhelming most of society. The Internet, the cloud, robotics, mobile computing, etc. have disrupted the economic order. While leaders and managers claim to prepare people for the future, they are challenged to teach what they have never been taught. Leaders must mentor the next generation to manage change and systematically influence the future.

     Future Thinking Motivates Top Performance. Unsurprisingly, people say that participating in future thinking exercises opens their eyes to possibilities they otherwise never would have contemplated. They also say it gives them confidence in their decisions and actions. The only thing that matters about the past is what we learn from it – how we analyze the past, recognize the way things are evolving, and take action to create a desirable future. Sharing visions of the future with each other is a way to validate our ideas and broaden our perspectives. Keep that in mind when you vote next Tuesday. Which Congressmen and state and local candidates offer a future that you really want to see happen?

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