Of Swamps and Alligators… – Focusing On Outcomes

swampA couple of posts at Leadership Freak made me recall the old bromide that “when you are up to your neck in alligators, it is of little use to contemplate that you had originally intended to drain the swamp.” There are probably a few ways to interpret this thought but the theme appears to be that when things become “O-B-E” (Overtaken by events), you become reactionary rather than anticipatory. Depending on your level in the organization, this may be “where you live” and thus, consistent with what you expect from each day. If part of your responsibilities include future planning for your team, this is not a great place in which to be.

One of the more consistent traits expected of organizational leaders is the ability to shape the future according to plans, rather than the other way around. As Rockwell suggests, “Urgency dominates where plans lack.” Planners see patterns, gather facts, and paint the future.

Which brings us around to the tension between planning and doing. All leaders are busy, but busy can sometimes be distracting from focusing on the long term. As Rockwell puts it, “leaders without focus succeed at what doesn’t matter.”

The more dominant trait of leaders generally acknowledged to be above average is the degree to which they plan the futures of their organizations. The ability to do this amidst the day to day drains on their attention is what separates the good from the great organizations. The ability for the leader to remain committed to outcomes, and “how we look”, while being bombarded with opportunities to ditch the plan, or run around with hair on fire for the latest crisis, is what defines the effective leader. Match the two and you have an organization that is capable of doing great things, maintaining daily consistent excellence at what they do, and focused on the long term.

And, as Scott Eblin noted in “When Executives Freak Out“, if you think your moments of weakness don’t get noticed, think again. Your entire organization depends on the tone you set and if you are joining the “hair on fire” dash every day, their confidence in your ability to handle a “real” emergency will be affected. Connect today with tomorrow, hold the organization responsible for outcomes, don’t let every emergency be a reason to ditch the plan, and above all, live the mission and the strategic plan to carry it out.