April 25, 2008

Leading for Sustainability

When I meet for the first time with a client, one of the first questions that I ask is where do you want this organization to be in ten years? Inevitably I get a long pause and quizzical look in return. I have come to know the jarring nature of this question through that look. Despite grand strategic planning initiatives and master plans, many have trouble articulating their future as an organization. Few can paint the specific picture of their future with words and details. I think my simple question invites these connected insights - the future is determined by the now and I stay so busy in the now that I don't spend much time imagining the future. As leader of an organization, you must let sustaining the endeavors of your business for the future be your guiding purpose. You must take time to discuss and name what the vision of that future is in detail. This is the heart of sustainability discussions.

You have to imagine your future, clearly and boldly. You have to spend time as an organization, whether you are a school or a manufacturing company or a museum, talking about what you want everything about your facilities, your financial health, your programs/products, your workforce and culture, your mission, your relationships internally and externally, to be like. Then, you have to live into the dream. This visualization of the future that you would like to design toward is the critical step in managing your sustainability as an organization. And, it makes the purpose of every day and every decision more felt, more understood in context.

The vision provides the destination for the leader to target. Without that, what are your leading toward really? If you can't see it, smell it, hear it in your dreams, if it is not nitty-gritty, your leadership becomes more like a shot in the dark - a stab at an unspecificed, unknown, possibly not real target. I would even say the shot-in-the-dark leader is not really leading but rather, managing the status quo.

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What do you think? How do you interpret this idea in your environment?