A leader of a well-known organization once remarked to me, "I would love to lead us to a better future, but I just don't know where to start…" Another organization's leader told me, "I like where we are right now… but I can't seem to define where we are going very clearly."
I frequently work with organizations led by individuals who have "a great vision." But as I look closer, I see that they are often challenged by an inability to assess their current situation, to know and understand their organization's strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, I have consulted with organizations whose leaders are deeply rooted in what's happening right now. They can tell you every metric for their business performance. Yet they lack the capacity to articulate a compelling picture of where they are going. However, some of the people working in both these types of organizations suffer stress, fatigue, and burnout – often because they don't really know where they're going or how they're getting there.
This is an issue that plagues many organizations - even apparently successful ones. It's the inability for their leaders to link daily activities between today's reality and a motivating vision of tomorrow. It's what I call "the today-tomorrow gap."
Some leaders are quite good at understanding where their organization is today, in the concrete here and now, and others love to live in the ethereal future where everything is chasing a grand vision of how things might be. However, what takes place between those extremes makes the key difference in whether or not a leader will take an organization into its future successfully.
Good leaders need to overcome the gaps for their people between today and tomorrow, between reality and vision, by systematically going step-by-step into the future. You start where you are today and build to where you want to go tomorrow.
I prescribe a 4-step strategic approach to help fill the gap between today and tomorrow.
1. Define where you are: What are the key metrics and performance indicators that define your situation? Be brutally honest. Don't shy away from the truth – the only path to success starts where you are; not where you fantasize you are.
2. Define where you want to be: Reflect deeply on what the future could look like. Work with others to paint a vivid picture of life for everyone in your organization if you were to achieve those dreams. Take the measures of success you defined in step 1 and reframe your future in those terms. Now you have a consistent picture of "today-tomorrow" that you can connect.
3. Define your time horizon: How long do you think it will take to arrive at the picture of tomorrow you defined in step 2? Will your "tomorrow" require one year? Or five? Be realistic – your future is not built in a day. And being unrealistic will only extend your "today-tomorrow gap" for another day.
4. Define your steps: Just like a staircase, you'll need to build steps to climb to your tomorrow. What are these steps? They are your interim measures of progress – use the definitional metrics you identified in steps 1 and 2. What steps along the way do you need to achieve by what date in order to be on pace? Celebrate the accomplishment of each step! And connect each one to the larger picture of "tomorrow" you painted in step 2.
Where are your organization's today-tomorrow gaps? What realities are keeping you as a leader from all that you know your organization could be achieving? Begin with a very hard and rigorous look at where you are today-not a 'pie-in-the-sky, bye-and-bye' look, but an honest look. That is the first step to helping build a strategy staircase that enables you to get to that vision of tomorrow.
Of course, many leaders don't always have a clear vision for tomorrow, and many visionary leaders don't have sufficient knowledge of where they are today. However if you want to be an effective leader, in order to get your organization to where it could be, you need to bridge this gap. Remember: Tomorrow will get here on schedule – but what steps are you taking today to make it the kind of tomorrow do you want it to be?
Dr. Carl Moeller is a consultant at Sequoia Global Resources, retained search executive at FaithSearch Partners, and author of The Privilege of Persecution (Moody Press, 2011). Moeller's diverse background, education, and global experience provide him with unique perspectives on life, leadership and faith. You can find out more at www.drcarlmoeller.com.