Where are we going? That’s a simple question in leadership, from followers to leaders.
Forgive me this non-sophisticated approach to leadership studies. All non-sophisticated, simple questions seem to terrify managers and leaders. Such as this question. Of course, we have pre-cooked answers, so answering is never a big problem.
The answers depend on the kind of narrative and mental frame in which the company operates. Believe me, obvious as this is, it is interesting to see how many leaders of a given organization have not reflected on this properly. For example, you have the war narrative: to become number one in X, and kill the competition in Y, or expand market share in Z. The leaders here are like the generals in a war room in front of maps. Or, there is the change the world narrative (really?) which could be taken less seriously. Or the putting on weight narrative: to triplicate our size. Pick one. Do you know which one is yours?
Regardless of how you answer that, it’s largely determined by how it has been answered in previous years with not many questions being asked, it would be extremely healthy to pretend that you don’t have an answer and start form zero. Just pretend. Come on, you learnt that in kindergarten.
Here is an easy exercise. Write the news headline that you want to see about the company in, say, 2 or 3 years’ time. Seriously. You could throw in a couple of rules if you do this with your leadership team. As you should. For example, the headline could or could not include numbers (‘Company X has reached 1 billion revenue’), or you could allow/seek two or three different headlines. Do it in private. Stick it on the wall and then see what others say. I promise you that there will always be some interesting revelations.
I have done it many times with clients, and even when involving a cohesive team, people who know each other well, there are always surprises. The answers are unlikely to be good or bad, just revealing. You may expect Peter to write A, but you got B. Or you expected everybody to be aligned around a goal that has just been discussed, but the headline does not mention the goal. As you can see, this is when the fun starts.
Writing the headline is not just about projecting yourself into history. And creating a history (and a story) is what it is all about. We construct history. Retrospective history is also constructive, not just based on facts – a topic for another day. But the news headline exercise could be taken very seriously and be a great hook and source of alignment for the team.
Once you have that history constructed, leadership is easy (just kidding): it is seducing people to build that piece of collective history. With seducing, collective and history being the real keywords of leadership.