Six Steps that Invent the Future
Companies who succeed in today’s volatile business economy must learn to conquer obstacles like a championship basketball team in a ‘FastBreak’ overcoming the insecurities that hold them back and responding instantly to the flow of the game.
Before leaders can accomplish anything, they must first understand themselves and present reality, challenge their own thinking, communicate a well thought out and concise strategic direction and define a clear and actionable plan for execution.
A leader must make the final call. To make that call with confidence a leader must know the answer and/or know how to find the answer, and must communicate in a compelling manner that is clear, simple and concrete. Only then, will his team have the faith to follow and achieve the company’s objectives.
The following six guidelines provide a roadmap for surpassing common business hurdles to achieve success and invent a well-designed future reality for your business or life. These steps work for everything from building a porch of the front of your house, to creating a great company, or nation.
Six Steps to Inventing the Future:[wcm_restrict]
- Knowing When You Know: Of course the first step is to know the right answer, but more important, you have to know when you know the right answer in business or life. It is not enough to say, after it is too late, “I knew that.” In any endeavor there is a correct course to set – and this course is based on the realities of the market in which one operates, competitive analysis and the true differentiation of the product, service or team being evaluated. A leader must be fully present to the reality of the moment to succeed, rather than being attached to their thoughts and beliefs about that reality. The leader must know the difference between his ego’s hopes and fears and true reality. This involves a deep understanding of both oneself, and the flow of cause and effect. A leader must learn the art of ‘integrative presence’ that allows them to really know and fully experience the unique set of circumstances they face in order to make the correct choices faster and more accurately than the competition. The future emerges from the present, the past is distorted by our beliefs, emotions and the limits of our perceptual abilities.
‘Integrative presence’ is similar to an athlete being in the zone. Your presence allows you to integrate the reality of the moment with your intention for the future. Thus, responding correctly to the flow of the game. Product cycles are shortening, business is becoming far more complex, and global competition requires speed and accuracy. Without the correct understanding of the present reality and how that it is emerging into the future, you cannot move with accuracy or speed. A leader must dance with the present while simultaneously carrying an intention for the future, as you do this you know how to move.
- Communicating Clear Compelling Picture of the Future State: You cannot create something you cannot conceive. Once a leader knows he knows, he must be able to conceive and communicate the opportunity and how the team can capture that opportunity. Until this team can see, feel and hear the calling of the opportunity that the reality represents, they cannot truly follow. Without this clear picture, each team member will create his or her own picture of the future, causing friction and slowing the overall progress of the team. The leader’s presence and authentic commitment to the mission draws followers within the company and in the market place. The more clear the picture of the future state is, the easier it is to create. Without a clear picture of the future in the minds of each leader, chaos will ensue.
- Creating Total Commitment: After the team can see and feel the possibility of the future, their commitment grows.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation.” -Goethe
First the leader must themselves be fully committed to the mission, and then develop the same level of commitment in those that follow. Part of being a leader is to challenge teams to face their fears and change their habits. What prevents them from committing is one or the greatest fears of mankind: the fear of the unknown. No one likes to walk into a dark room. As leader, you have to light the future with your vision. To move forward, you must paint a picture of a new reality to give your team confidence, and keep them totally engaged. The clearer and more compelling this picture of the future state becomes, the more committed the team becomes. The same is true for the marketplace and your customers.
- Acknowledging Present Reality: Leaders who fall short of their goals have often skipped or distorted this step. No matter how committed a team is to a mission, having the wrong starting point can make plans useless. Knowing the good, bad, and the ugly about any situation being faced allows team to build plans that are targeted and effective. The challenge here is that people hate to be wrong, and find ways to make reality comport with their beliefs. This is the problem with the belief in ‘positive thinking.’ It often skips this step and moves too quickly to planning and action. Alternately, pessimists, because of their negative beliefs about life, give-up at this step feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. A plan that is not grounded in reality, no matter how clear and committed the team, will lead you over a cliff. If someone were to give you directions to Chicago, thinking you were in Los Angles when in fact you were in Miami, you would become lost no matter how good the directions. A leader and the team must honestly face weaknesses and misconceptions to invent the future.
- Developing Targeted Action Plans: Having passed through the first several steps, it becomes easier to create targeted plans, which provide a roadmap that enables teams to deliver focused execution. However, the problem here is often that when things are going well, leaders change the mission instead of adjusting the action plans. This means that they did not do the work in the first three steps. If you know and are committed to the mission, you will know to change the plan, not the mission. With the right plan, a team will surpass competitors while learning about themselves. Even at the final step, there may be obstacles, doubts and fears to overcome. Be on guard for hesitation. A leader must not falter due the team’s fears.
- Having the Courage to Act Fast: When you have all of the above steps in place your fears are less likely to interfere, but may still prevent you from implementing the plan. Courage to confront your fears and the fears of the team is the difference between someone who knows the answer, but lacks the courage to act and lead. Once a leader knows the answer, that leader never gives up. With shortening product cycles and limited capital, leaders must first define the markets, enter them, and create excitement in the market. With targeted actions that everyone believes in, the leader forms ‘FastBreak Action Teams’ that are infused with clarity and confidence to reach the new reality. With good marketing and branding, the marketplace will have the same courage.
Of course this is all easier said than done, but if a leader can take the time to follow through each of these steps, they can take full control of their future. Fears and doubts arise during each step, a leader must work to mitigate this fear with possibility and a compelling picture of the future state. During WWII Winston Churchill, after the Nazi’s had rolled over Europe destroying great armies, killing millions of innocent people and destroying cities – with his army defeated at Dunkirk, his air force in tatters and U-boats sinking his navy and blocking supply lanes – had the courage to say, “We will never surrender.” He did this with the full knowledge that he and his family would be tortured and killed should Hitler win.
Addressing his divided government and the nation in 1940, two years before the USA joined the fight, he painted a clear and compelling picture of the mission while acknowledging reality.
… I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”
Worthwhile business missions are not this dramatic or important, but the courage and clarity represented in this moment in history, is a great model for any leader. Practicing the steps above will make teams stronger, more confident and more effective to enhance their company’s performance in the marketplace. Each leader who creates opportunities grows the wealth of the company, the people within it, and the communities they touch. Look back on the successes in your life and you will see these steps.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]
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About the Author
Paul David Walker, CEO of Genius Stone Partners, was part of the first to create a leadership firm designed to align strategy, structure and culture to fortify some of the largest companies in the United States including Star-Kist Foods, Rockwell International, Conexant Systems, Chase, Anne Kline and New York Life. His own genius lies in integrating business strategy and philosophical insights, guiding the leadership of major companies with a holistic approach that allows them to grow grounded, stable and balanced – and ultimately, become much more successful leaders. Some of the most influential leaders in American business have relied on him for expert guidance since 1984. To read Paul David Walker’s complete biography, click here.
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