There are two key parallel undertakings to every organization’s viability: Creating future opportunity and delivering on yesterday’s promises. One focuses forward; the other keeps a watch backwards. One is about the windshield; the other is about the rearview mirror.
Most people’s tendency is to be either a visionary or a deliverer. You probably know which one you are. But successful leaders must develop competence in both inventing the future of tomorrow and delivering on the Friday’s payroll of yesterday within their companies for them to stay viable.
Tomorrow (Inventing the Future)
Tomorrow is a blank piece of paper. Do nothing and that’s what it remains: blank. It has to be written. You have to create your opportunities. You have to constantly reinvent the future, for yourself and for your organization.
William Pollard, the long-time CEO of ServiceMaster said, “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” Evolve or die. It’s that simple.
Once upon a time, the products and services that came from innovative ideas became ingrained in societies for centuries with only modest modifications made over time. There weren’t many ways to improve a plow until you could hook it to a tractor instead of animals. In today’s business arena, however, success is like bread. It has a short shelf life, so you’d better be making the next new batch, now. And next year’s version better be “new and improved”… or maybe even totally remade.
Innovation applies to products and services, but also to business models, leadership styles, and strategy. Gone also are the days that you know who your competition is and what their next likely move is going to be. You must be forging new moves on key insights of innovation and creativity. You need a strategy that is agile and adaptable.
Many naturally gifted leaders are strong on consistent administration and operational maintenance, but you can probably bet your pet pooch that their vision of the future is cloudy. These leaders may say, “My job is about completing tasks and fulfilling our promises to everyone.”
What about you? Does thinking forward energize you? Do you have a vision for what you want your group to be in 2030? Do your ideas for improvement generate enthusiasm?
No matter your answers to these questions, though, inventing the future can be a learned skill. First, create the time to innovate. 3M is famous for innovation. This was not by accident. Many years ago, they created a 15 percent rule, which gives employees 15 percent of their work time to brainstorm about new ideas (where do you think the Post-It Note came from?). Google allows its employees time for innovation, a practice that gave birth to Gmail and Google Earth.
Set some time in your schedule for innovation. Book a training event or conference for the sole purpose of sharpening your mind in your job. Get time with naturally gifted innovators. Read tips on how to innovate. Identify obstacles and spend time with a whiteboard dreaming of ways to use them to your advantage.
You cannot afford not to know how to invent your future. You know that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and somehow expecting a different outcome or result. That’s why it is important to be inventing the future of what could be. It’s bringing the fresh air of new thinking, new models, new partnerships, new structures, new norms, etc., to your life and work.
Today (Paying Friday’s Payroll)
On the other hand, thinking up something new is a no brainer for many; the hard part is paying for what’s already on order — it’s making Friday’s payroll.
Friday’s payroll represents all the things you have to do today that fulfill past commitments. It is the running list that captures all the obligations, agreements, and pledges you have made that require resources today to fulfill them. In its most elementary example, it is a worker and boss agreeing on Monday morning to work all week. If the worker works all week along certain guidelines, the boss will pay him on that Friday for that week’s work. The boss has to make sure he has the resources to fulfill his Friday payroll promise.
And by the way, most of the things on our daily to-do list are in this category.
How are you at delivering on yesterday’s promises? Do you often finish a week with several undone items? Do those around you feel like they have to cover for you after you make promises for the future? Or, are your projects on time and on budget? Are you good at improving efficiency? Are you the consistent logjam to stuff getting finished?
Being a visionary by itself won’t secure your future. Visionaries have to follow through. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Those who succeed are those who know how to take an idea, pull others into the process, and actually make it happen.
For many of us, this is a discipline. Those of us with our heads in the clouds have to schedule a regular descent to earth where we get dirty doing what it takes to make the future happen. The future happens today. If active implementation is not part of your today, then tomorrow never arrives. The report has to be filed, the order has to be filled, the phone call has to be returned, the action items from the meeting have to be acted upon.
If you don’t develop the discipline of follow-through, the people who are working with you or under you get frustrated and burn out. They quit because they get tired of picking up your dropped balls. They will stop trusting you. They will stop following you. Ideas bank on the credibility of delivery. To the degree that you are known for making things happen, no matter how big or how small, your ideas will find a greater listening.
So, get out the bills, see what promises you owe and start writing checks. “Well done,” as Ben Franklin said, “is better than well said.”
In conclusion, realize the best leaders chase both ideas in parallel. They become consciously competent in both ‘Inventing the future’ and ‘paying Fridays’ payroll.’ It is the beauty and genius of the both/and instead of the either/or. As theologian Tyron Edwards said, “Between two evils, choose neither; between two goods, choose both.”
Over the decades I have compiled a list of complimenting capabilities required to lead in the modern world. Remember, you need a bit of both to be effective for a long time in leadership.
- Being Results Driven AND People Focused
- Doing Friday’s Payroll AND Inventing the Future
- Having Heart AND Using Your Head
- Thinking Corporately AND Working Functionally
- Leading Others AND Managing Yourself
- Feeling Confident AND Being Humble
- Embracing Team AND Performing Alone
I will be releasing a short article/blog on a few of these over the next few months. Keep an eye out for them.