Leading the Future in the Present


I once worked with a leader who had purchased a competitor’s highly successful product and took it apart to see what all the fuss was about. His company was behind in the marketplace for this particular item, and he felt it would give him some insight. The problem is, it only gave him current state of the art information about the product.

We need leaders who are models of what it means to be great organizations that live the future now. Yes, I know it sounds crazy but you must lead without waiting for the future to arrive.

What this means is that you must be agile, adaptable, and willing to change in anticipation of what’s required tomorrow, next year, or even five or ten years out. This requires you to see and act beyond the vision and strategic plan.

To lead the future now you must:

Get in touch with your heart as well as your head. Getting in touch with your heart means that you lead in a way that assures that your organization is unselfishly working in the future today. This is an act of leading with love that prepares those who follow you when you are gone to continue on even as you prefer to fight daily fires. Get ready, go beyond the every-day doing that satisfies your head and work hard at cultivating and modelling future possibilities now.

Widen your circle: We all know the story of Abraham Lincoln’s choices for his cabinet, outlined in Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals. Lincoln didn’t choose the easy way of surrounding himself with a cabinet of people just like him (or that he liked), but went out of his way to choose opponents. A brilliant strategy for today because the possibilities for you to find your own network of rivals in our hyper-connected world are endless. Be on the watch for those who challenge you (but you may not like), and who think crazy out-of-the-box things (even if you disagree). Spend time and listen to them.

Read, reflect, dialog: Many leaders claim they don’t have time to read, reflect or dialog with others. This is where future-thinking comes from. How can they possibly get new, creative ideas without knowing what is shaping the future in the bigger world around them? If they’re closed in, head down in their organizations, they are oblivious to what the future might bring. Reading, reflecting and having dialog with others about how the future is taking shape should be a priority.

Be courageous: It takes a lot of fearlessness to embrace the future now, to stand steadfast and to imagine and lead for it. There will be naysayers. There will be those who oppose change, and want to keep things as they are. The greatest leaders don’t only react to what is, they act on what will be despite their enemy’s admonitions, resistance and ridicule. They learn to influence those who oppose them to see what they see.

Lead the future in the present, or you and your organization can expect to be left in the past!

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

One comment on “Leading the Future in the Present

  1. Wonderful insight Mary Jo. You put what I was feeling into words! It is so valuable to “lead the future in the present.” Without thinking of the future, the present is simply wasted time. Keeping your head up and allowing yourself to be open to new ideas can only bring growth to the company.

    I love your example of Abraham Lincoln’s choice of cabinet members. Stuart Diamond in his book Getting More also talks about the incredible outcomes that are possible when you have diversity. If everyone were the same in their thinking and reasoning, growth would still happen, but not as explosive. Of course there has to be positive communication, collaboration and good work ethic when working with diverse people. There is just so much to benefit from when we diversify! Thanks again!

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