Imagine giving your best at leadership and not being able to see beyond tomorrow. Trying to lead without having any big plans and no big ideas on how to achieve them.
As a person who spent his professional life as a leader among leaders, I can’t imagine any of my leaders not having a forward-thinking quality. They simply would not have been a leader without it. Those of my peers who did not have this quality ended their careers and moved on.
In my introduction to the 5 qualities of highly effective leaders, I pointed out how important forward-thinking is, and how it has 2 components. Forward-thinking is both how you think and how far ahead you think. No effective leader is focused on tomorrow.
Why Forward-Thinking is Vital
In my research, many writings on leadership suggested creativity or similar terms are vital characteristics of effective leaders. I agree they are, but creativity is a sub-element of forward-thinking. This is true of many other qualities often listed as top leadership qualities.
To lead and be forward-thinking enables you to bring into play:
- Strategic thinking
These three are tops. Other sub-qualities apply. Nonetheless, without these three, a leader will never be the true forward-thinker he or she must be.
Creativity and Forward-Thinking Leaders
How creative do you need to be? The answer is not found in art. It is found in your ability to see how to either take what exists and make it better or creating completely innovative ideas.
If you search the markets, you will find that most products take existing concepts, process, or technology and find ways to make it and/or use it better. Apple is a notable example.
Apple did not invent the mp3 player, or touchscreen tablets, or mobile phones, or computers. Their current release of iPhone X added face recognition technology. Apple did not invent this either.
What they do, is find ways to use it better, and then market it better. The result tends to be consumers believing they invented them all.
The same is true of Google and search engines. Google did not invent search engine or search advertising. However, because they made it work best, consumers believe they invented it.
Do you know who commercialized the internet? Probably not. It was a life-changing idea, yet many think Google did this as well. Google did not exist when the Internet began commercial applications via phone modems.
Did Bill Gates invent DOS? The answer is no. He purchased the rights and made it better. Did Gates invent personal computers? Again, the answer is no. He found the way to market it by selling the idea he could create the operating system, which he didn’t create – he bought it.
As a leader myself, my success focused on improving existing processes. In my book, Overpower Oceans: 7 Leadership Principles that Crush Your Most Powerful Mental Barriers, I give you several fantastic stories to illustrate this. But the bottom line is, relying totally on completely new ideas is very difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
Most of what successful leaders focus on is taking what works or even flounders and making it great.
Knowledge and Forward-Thinking Leaders
To be the leader that has the creativity to make existing things great does require knowledge. Don’t mistake knowledge for absolute expertise. You don’t have to be the expert to develop creative processes or ideas in any area.
A leader gains the knowledge needed anyway possible. This includes:
You likely can think of other key aspects of gaining knowledge, but the 4 above are essential.
As a person moves forward in their career, this knowledge comes as fast as you can do the four above. Relying on just a single element will leave you lagging. You must be a maven for knowledge and gain what need however you can.
Knowledge enables you to make decisions accurately and to apply the other principles I outline in Overpower Oceans most effectively. In the military, the stupid leader easily could be the dead leader. In business, the stupid leader won’t be the leader for long.
Strategic Thinking and Forward-Thinking Leaders
Strategic thinking is the main part of forward-thinking that enables you to ultimately create process and products that succeed. This is “big picture” thinking. Your ability to look 5, 10 or more years ahead and anticipate what or where your team, business, or company should be going.
Strategic thinking is not about how to do things. It’s about what to do. Remember that a strategy is a detailed plan for achieving an action. Tactics are the specific actions or steps to complete the steps of the strategy.
How-to thinking is tactical. It’s what makes the strategy work. Knowledge helps create tactics, but this is where focused expertise plays best. Knowledge of the “big picture” and what makes something good or potentially great is strategic.
What You Could Do to Improve Forward Thinking
To not be too smug, but the answers should be obvious. Nonetheless, here are some suggestions:
- Spend more time directly observing your operations
- If you have a habit of talking a lot and listening to a little, try switching this around and see what you learn.
- Ask probing questions of your team for ideas. You may be surprised how pooling their ideas together enables you to see much further into the future than you imagined.
- If you think you don’t have time to read the latest in your market, it’s time you find the time.
- Do more of the tasks you task others with if you have never done them yourself. You will be amazed what you learn.
Here’s Something You’ll Love
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