If you are a Fleetwood Mac fan, I probably just tossed you back about 40 years. Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow was actually on their album Rumours that released in 1977. This song certainly wasn’t about leadership. Actually, there was a pretty consistent flow of drama in that band and in the relationships between band members. As a result, many songs were written about each other! Strange but true. What’s even stranger is that in some cases, band members performed the songs for years not having any idea it was written about that band member! So, I suppose ignorance is bliss.
I know that it sounds ridiculous; however, I’m sure Ginger would tell you I’m a little slow catching on sometimes, so I’m not casting any stones here! Anyway, I feel like one of the many secrets to successful leadership is walking that fine line between being fully present in the moment, and keeping a keen eye on the future. You can’t be too much about either.
I’ll tell you this: many a business and businessman or woman has come to ruin when their attention is misplaced. Too much focus on the present will result in decisions without regard to the future. Too much planning for the future and you will overlook the pressing decisions facing you today that could prevent you from experiencing your planned tomorrows.
These decisions can be terribly costly in the long-run. I’ll give you an example. If you allow the present to consume you, then it’s possible that it could jeopardize your future with a decision meant to impact your present.
As many of you know, I worked for more than 20 years in the mining industry. If you have been around mining, you will know that the work is hard, the days are long, and the environment is extremely challenging and often unforgiving. Most receive compensation that takes all of this into account. I wish you had time for me to recount the number of stories where a good-paying job was jeopardized for some short-term gain.
Short-Term Vs. Long-Term
One of the more ridiculous ones had to do with fraudulent expense account submissions. In this case, you are talking about a person who has a six-figure income trying to gain a few thousand dollars of benefit by submitting expenses for approval that were never incurred.
Think about this: let’s say hypothetically that you are earning $80k per year. You have a chance to “cook the books” or let’s say you are offered a kickback with a vendor on a product the company purchases. Either case, you are going to produce half your income in additional revenue. You’ll come up with an extra forty grand. That’s a lot of money.
And when you are focused on the short-term, you won’t think about how 40 years of $80k per year will generate $3.2M of income. You can be overtaken by the idea that you could increase your salary by 50% right now! Here’s the rub: it’s only 12.5% of what you earn over the 40 year period at 80k per year.
Now put that into context. It’s not even $20 per week over a 40-year career. But I’ve seen it happen. They will take the gamble. Risk $3.2M gained through honest, hard work for a dishonest, illegitimate $40k today. That’s short-term thinking at it’s worst.
He or she isn’t thinking about a felony. I doubt that a five or ten-year prison sentence has crossed their mind. A career in shambles with an inability to get anything near like the job they had is not front and center. I’m almost certain they did not stop to consider how their personal reputation would be destroyed and how it would change their relationships with family, spouse, children, etc…
A Lasting Legacy
This podcast isn’t about fraud. It’s about short-term thinking that can lead to disaster. At the core, it’s a lack of regard for legacy. They stopped thinking about tomorrow. You can’t afford that.
It’s the way a boxer prepares for a fight. One foot in the present, one anticipating every moment of the future. No inordinate amount of focus on either but recognizing that a balance between the two is required to produce victory.
It’s a coach who constantly reminds her team not to overlook today’s opponent while she has been focusing their attention on the championship. Both are required. Once victory is obtained over today’s circumstance, our focus shifts. This is the tension. There’s a job to do today and an objective on the horizon. Both are important.
Even though the goal ALL SEASON was to reach, and win, Super Bowl LIII, neither Tom Brady or Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots was thinking about that at 6:39 PM Eastern time on Sunday, January 20. This is the tension. You have a job to do today and are continually reaching for the next objective.
The Load You Carry
Many of us will never go to bed at night carrying the load that an executive will who leads at one of the largest corporations in the world. Still, there is plenty to learn from these men and women. I’ll share another example to make the point.
Roberto Goizueta was the CEO of Coca-Cola Company in the 90s. He again demonstrates the tension of leading today while thinking about tomorrow in a speech that he gave in 1997. He says:
A billion hours ago, human life appeared on Earth. And A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. A billion Coca-Colas ago was yesterday morning. And the question we are asking ourselves now is: What must we do to make a billion Coca-Colas ago be this morning?
I’m not sure if the significance of his statement resonates with you. Coke started in 1886 and during the first year of sales, nine drinks per day were sold for total sales that year of $50. Guess how many drinks Coke sells per day now? 1.9 billion. That’s ‘b’ – ‘b’ as in billion. I would say Mr. Goizueta and subsequent leaders at Coke have continued to work hard today while keeping an eye on tomorrow. This is no easy task.
Five Tips To Generate A Legacy
So how do you generate a legacy? John Maxwell offers these five tips in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:
(1) Lead the organization with a “long view”
Too many people try to make short-term gains enacting decisions that bring long-term pain. Don’t get suckered into making yourself look good while putting the team, department or company at jeopardy. Reason through the long-term impact of your decisions and do what’s best for the company.
(2) Create a leadership culture
I don’t mean just one or two at senior levels. When someone walks into your business, they should know right away that you are serious about developing leaders. From the shop floor to the boardroom, you must be intentional about creating the next generation of men and women who will carry the vision and mission of the organization forward.
Did you know that when Jack Welch left GE there were dozens of folks that the board knew could be selected as CEO and the company would not miss a beat? Did you know that there were more than one hundred candidates internally who would be able to handle the job with a small amount of additional training? Now that’s a strong commitment to leadership development.
(3) Pay the price today to assure success tomorrow
Many of the decisions you will make might sacrifice immediate gratification in favor of achieving a far-reaching goal. There’s pain associated with making those types of choices.
For instance, you might choose to spend more on preventative maintenance. While this might reduce your bottom line because of the increased expense, the longer life of your asset pays off in the long run. You might not be thinking that the same is true when it comes to investing in your team’s development or investing in yourself.
It’s like that old exchange where one senior leader says “What if we train them and then they leave?” and the other says “What if we don’t and they stay?” Pay the price and don’t wait for someone to pay it for you.
(4) Value team leadership above individual leadership
This might be the most important point in today’s episode. The load is far too heavy for any one person to carry it alone.
The process of building an effective leadership team starts with hiring the first person. So make sure that each team member will “buy in” to the model you want to create. If not, no matter how great the individual talent, they won’t be worth what it will cost you.
Select only those who are willing to be a part of the team, but additionally, only those that are willing to build the team. So, this means that they understand their obligation to raise the leadership capability of the team. It’s not just the CEO who’s responsible for building a great team. Every level of the organization has to demonstrate a commitment to the team leadership ideal.
(5) Walk away from the organization with integrity
I want to dive deep on this one, but I will save it for a future episode. When it’s time to leave, just do it and don’t draw it out. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t try to manipulate things from behind the scenes.
When it’s time to hand over the reins, don’t keep some of them in your hands while handing of few over to another. As a result, this will create confusion…and a real mess.
So it ties back to tip number four: if leadership has been all about you, if your identity is wrapped up in your job function or your title, if your value and worth are determined by your daily activities, this will not end well. The best thing you can do is raise up great leaders who will step in, take your role, and do it as well or better than you ever did. Therefore, it’s actually a compliment for no one to even know that you are gone.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Mr. Goizueta. He said “Leadership is one thing you cannot delegate. You either exercise it, or you abdicate it.” So lead. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. You can’t afford it. Lead like no one else – you won’t regret it.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
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