3 Ways to Grow Your Future-Focus

When I’m working with clients through corporate coaching, we look at ways to expand leadership qualities, and in particular, their ability to become more future-oriented. The answer is to spend more time thinking about the future, but this is harder than it may seem at first. There are three ways to expand your ability to become more future-oriented and hone your leadership effectiveness. In The Truth About Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2010), Posner and Kouzes urge readers to spend time learning about the future through: Insight Outsight Foresight Insight: Explore Your Past This exercise that follows will help you connect your past experiences and values with your current work. When you look backward, you can see farther ahead and imagine future possibilities. Look for repeating themes in your life – the recurring messages that keep reminding you of what matters most. For younger leaders, there’s less past to recall; however, it’s still important to use the richness of your life experiences to uncover ideals. Here are some questions to explore: Identify the recurring theme in your life. To which topic do you return again and again? What story do you keep telling and retelling? Search your past to find a theme. It will probably form the basis of your core values and higher purpose. When you know more about yourself, your dreams and your purpose, it will be easier to visualize the future. Outsight: Imagine the Possibilities To be a credible leader, you need to spend more time reading, thinking and talking about long-term possibilities. Develop the discipline to spend more time studying the future. Establish a “future committee” dedicated to...

How to Develop Future Focus

How do you develop your capacity to be future-focused? In the work I do in healthcare coaching and other areas, I recommend they carve out some time each week to peer into the distance and imagine what may be out there. Start with 30 minutes a day, using the time to learn about what’s going on in your industry, with customers, and with the potential future of your products and services. You can read magazines, books and/or online research. Top executives estimate they spend only about 3 percent of their time thinking about, and getting others on board with, the critical issues that will shape their business 10 or more years down the road. It’s simply not enough time. Sparking Energy for What Really Matters Here’s the problem: In tough economic times, everyone hunkers down on tactics. They focus on survival and results. Decisions become pragmatic. After a while, however, this short-term approach grinds us down, and we lose sight of the big picture, the business strategy. In today’s difficult times, people need to be reminded of why they are doing what they do – and why it matters. This is when leaders can step up and make a difference. Leadership is more than encouraging high-performance; it’s about reminding people of what they are trying to build and why it matters. In many ways, leadership supplies oxygen to keep the fires going. When people are mired in day-to-day work details, they can lose their bearings. An effective leader makes a difference by helping people see their role in building a better future. It’s your job to connect the dots...

What People Want from Leaders

Leadership professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes, after surveying thousands of people on ideal leadership qualities, reveal that the ability to look forward is second only to honesty as the most admired trait. On average, 70 percent of workers worldwide select “forward-looking” as a key leadership competency. Think about the leaders you’ve followed or admired. The great ones are visionaries who serve as custodians of the future. You want to partner with leaders who can create a better future. As we age, gain more experience and move up the organizational hierarchy, our desire for a forward-looking leader increases, according to Posner and Kouzes. While only about one-third of undergraduate college students ranked “forward-looking” among their most important leadership attributes, more than 90 percent of senior executives had added it to their lists. Some leaders are naturally future-oriented strategists; many others excel as executors or talent managers. Still others shine at getting things done and making things happen; others bring out the best in people. While achieving great results with people is always rewarding, it’s not enough for promotion to higher levels of responsibility and leadership. To take that step, you must expand your ability to communicate a vision for the future. Forward-looking leaders can spot opportunities in their day-to-day work, and they excel at anticipatory thinking. How Far Can You See? It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of each moment. Do you look beyond what’s in front of you – especially when daily tasks take up so much time and energy? How do you become future-oriented and still handle day-to-day challenges? This is something we work...

Leaders Are Future-Focused

What do you think is the single quality that distinguishes and differentiates high-potential leaders from ordinary contributors in an organization? It’s their ability to be forward-looking and focus on the future. There’s a lot of research on leadership development and this single quality stands out. What do you need to develop in yourself if you want to be perceived as a high potential C-office candidate? To become a better leader or distinguish yourself as primed for promotion, you’ll want to develop your capacity to envision the future. In the work that I do in corporate coaching, we spend time working on developing a future-focus. Some people are naturally predisposed with a future-orientation. But even if you’re not, you can still learn to expand this skill. Focusing on the future sets leaders apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competency – perhaps the most important one, next to honesty. In The Leadership Code (Harvard School of Business Press, 2009), Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman reviewed leadership theory and distilled leadership competencies into five overarching roles: Strategist Leaders shape the future. Executor Leaders make things happen. Talent manager Leaders engage today’s talent. Human capital developer Leaders build the next generation. Personal proficiency Leaders invest in their own development. While leadership has evolved over time, these five areas of focus have remained constant as key functions of effective leaders, across all industries. Leaders must be able to answer the question, “Where are we going?” We look to our leaders to envision a future, figure out where the organization must go to succeed, evaluate ideas...