If you are anything like the hundreds of executives we have worked with, you are struggling to balance your long-term ambitions with the overwhelming amount of tasks associated with delivering today.
It was a challenge even before you began the latest COVID adventure and over a year of Zoom fatigue hasn’t helped. You have teams that are burned out, and you are too.
Finding the headspace to craft and implement longer-term strategy can seem impossible. But as Warren Buffett would remind us, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Going beyond just playing whack-a-mole on everyday crises takes a plan. Here’s what those who have done it recommend:
Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First
Do not go this alone. You need what one executive calls a “Battle Buddy” – someone who can partner with you through this, has your back, will tell you when you are off course, help you when you are stuck, and encourage you when you need it.
Find someone who won’t be afraid to tell you the cold hard truth when you are wrong. You need that thought partner if you are going to successfully navigate this transformation.
Take the Pressure Off
Remember that you are not alone: Nearly every executive is facing the same challenge.
And the best way to begin is to give yourself (and your team) permission to be imperfect.
Instead of aiming for a grand transformation strategy, follow the agile approach and let your first attempt be merely a minimum viable product – a “Version 1.0,” if you will.
It’s okay if it isn’t the grand strategy you know you need. Aim for a beginning and a step forward rather than a full solution and plan to refine it later. That’s what versions 2.0 and 3.0 are for!
Change Your Schedule (If Only a Little)
It is said that if you want to know what someone values, look at where they spend their money. For executives, look at where they spend their time.
Do a quick audit of your calendar. If it’s like most executive calendars right now, it’s packed full, and you would have to squint to see where you spend time on the transformation of your business.
You should ideally be spending a quarter of your time on the long-term, but for now, start small – maybe an hour or two a week.
Schedule slots you can protect to give yourself the head space to think. If it can’t be in the office, find a coffee shop, an outdoor space, go to a colleague’s office or meeting room, or sit in your car.
But it is important to hard wire that time into your schedule, and protect it however you can.
Connect to Your Purpose (Your Greater Why)
Change is hard and resistance to it is natural … and can be STRONG. But the one thing that can overcome inertia is a greater purpose.
That vision of a future that is better than your today and connects to something greater than yourself is what compels us to change. Martin Luther King, Jr, had a dream, and so did Olympic gold medalists, Apple, the United Nations, Disney, small companies everywhere that became large companies, and large companies that became legendary.
A vision of the future connected to your organization’s purpose will draw your people toward it like an incredibly strong magnetic force, lifting them above the inertia that might trip them up as they create the future you imagine.
Get Out of Your Own Head
Most great leaders spend an inordinate amount of time reading. Warren Buffett, someone solely focused on return on investment, reads 500 pages a day. Why? Because it pays off.
Reading helps you expand your frame of reference and get out of your own way.
Trying to craft a plan for transforming your business or operations from the old ways of doing things is an exercise in futility without new thought. So, fill your head with new ideas – talk to people outside your network, read, attend conferences, anything to expand your worldview.
The investment will compound and it will reap significant dividends.
Tap into the Team
Nothing is stronger than a team of people who work in harmony toward a goal. That team, when working together, can do more than you could ever do as an individual.
Rather than trying to undertake this effort on your own as their “leader,” instead lean into the “we” of teamwork and create it together. Your solution will not only be better than you could have come up with on your own, but it has the added benefit of having the team’s buy-in because they helped create it.
These are challenging times, but by following these executive-tested methods, you can create a better business with a better future.
Co-Founder and Chief Strategist
As a former Chief Strategy Officer and veteran operations and strategy consultant for firms including McKinsey & Company, Melissa’s work spans industries and the globe. Melissa has worked with organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to non-profits as well as private-equity funded turn-arounds. Melissa facilitates peer networks of senior executives in the digital and technology space through Collaborative Gain’s Councils. Melissa holds a BS in Engineering from MIT, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a Ph.D. in Values-Driven Leadership, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Sustainability from Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership.