The Dangers of “Rear-View Mirror” Management

So much of what I see from business leaders each day I liken to driving using only the rear-view mirror. There is so much time spent reviewing all types of lagging indicators or addressing sundry “fires” in terms of employee or client challenges that it leads to a real focus (and habit) of constantly looking at what has happened instead of what’s going to happen.

We are standing on the precipice to a chasm that stretches between the world we now inhabit and one that is moving at breakneck speed. Once we make that leap, there will little time for leaders to look backwards because changes will be coming at an increased velocity. Those in charge must always have one foot in the future in order to ensure the organization understands what that future holds.

There will no longer be slow gradual changes to industries because technology is providing platforms that alter entire ecosystems overnight. The change that took the U.S. from an agricultural to industrial society took nearly 120 years! There was time for people to evaluate and decide what was best and learn new skills and move their families…sometimes over a generation. The days of gradual, nearly lethargic, change are gone. We are seeing industries reshaped on a daily basis with axiological changes now the norm and not the exception.

So what do leaders need to do?

Identify an operational leader…NOW!

  • This person will be the one focused solely on the day to day operations of the business. They should have full authority to take proactive steps according to your agreed upon vision and strategy
  • If you do not have the resources to do this, then you will need to get creative with your schedule so you can spend x hours a day to be that person. Be ruthless with your time and when it’s up, it’s up. This will also force you to become a master delegator (not abdicator…there is a difference) which will lead to a more engaged and focused team. If it doesn’t then you did not have the right team to start with and you have another issue to address.

Read voraciously

  • There are so many options out there today to make this easier. You can subscribe to newsletters, industry updates, read books, listen to books, subscribe to magazines…the list goes on and on. The key is to develop a system for how you are going to leverage what you learn. Mine is simply “Read, Edit, Curate”. I take notes and underline important points and connect them immediately to my clients or other ideas I am developing. I carry at least 2–3 books with me and constantly share them with others who might be interested and this also helps reinforce the concepts so that I can retain them.
  • If you are not a “reader”, then figure something else out because you have to relentlessly scan the horizon and expand your “sphere of interest”. The greater the space between your sphere of interestand sphere of influence (your company), the more time you have to vet ideas before they may impact you.

Connect and engage with folks not in your field

  • Seek out interesting folks and talk to them! Find people who are doing cool shit in other industries and ask them some “why” and “how” questions (stay away from “what” and “who” as those are operational). Determine if there are lessons for you to learn and how what others are doing might be of value for you.

Question everything

  • Never allow anyone in your organization to believe they have it figured out and now they can reap the fruits of their labor. If things are going well then it is time to innovate. (If you are looking for a process, check on Red Teaming by Bryce G. Hoffman)

The world we live in is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (V.U.C.A.) and that is not going to change so we must adhere to the words of Viktor Frankl who said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.” If you don’t believe our situation is as precarious as I make it out to be, then you should read “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab.

See you on the other side!