Winners Focus on Both the Short "and" Long-Term
- 24 Best Leadership Practices | Part 22 of 24 -
Visionary leaders learn from the past, mind the present, and prepare for the future. Accordingly, winners are those that drive success in both the short “and” long-term. Oftentimes, however, companies get overly focused on satisfying the immediate needs of the market, board, and shareholders that they sacrifice long-term success for short-term only benefit. As Jack Welch noted, “Anyone can manage for the short term—just keep squeezing the lemon; and anyone can manage for the long—just keep dreaming . . . life would be easier if leadership was just a list of simple rules, but paradoxes are inherent to the trade.” As such, great leaders learn to juggle, multitask, and solve paradoxes - otherwise growth comes to a grinding halt. Simply, the goal of any leader should be to ensure the fulfillment of both short “and” long-term goals, not short “or” long-term because success means (1) driving near immediate action for short-term results, (2) ensuring innovation for long-term success, and (3) embracing a continuous improvement culture and in turn becoming a disruptor instead of a reactor. Accordingly, the only way to survive is by having the musculature of a sprinter (i.e., drive short-term results), the endurance of a marathon runner (i.e., drive long-term results), and the mental fortitude to embrace a race with no finish line (i.e., drive continuous improvements via a transformation always on mindset).
Why Leading for Both the Short & Long-Term is Key to Success
Success in today’s highly results oriented landscape means leaders must ensure innovation instead of replication, speed instead of complacency, and embracement of the “and” while saying goodbye to the “or." Simply, leaders must inspire immediate action for short-term results while also driving innovation for long-term success. Unfortunately, organizations oftentimes get overly focused on the short-term (e.g., quarterly results) at the expense of long-term growth, meaning everything happens in crisis mode. Such an approach is demoralizing and draining on the workforce. Furthermore, after the crisis mode is over everyone returns to business as normal until the next crisis hits.
Indeed, this vicious cycle continues to repeat itself in many organizations. Simply, many leaders keep squeezing the lemon dry to ensure quarterly gains are met while almost completely neglecting the long-term needs of the customer and/or enterprise. Once the lemon is squeezed the company dies. Indeed, it’s perhaps no surprise that studies have shown that one in three companies will cease to exist in 5 years, up from one in twenty 50 years ago, in large part due to a focus on either short "or" long-term versus short "and" long-term results. Just as companies can’t cut and trim their way to top-quartile performance so too can't organizations only focus on short-term, quarterly results and expect to be a winner. Indeed, within today's ever-quickening innovation cycles, continuous investment in the future is no longer a competitive advantage but rather tables stakes for survival. As such, long-term growth accompanied by immediate success and positive momentum is vital for above market, sustainable growth. Accordingly, leaders can take three steps to ensuring an organization that is best situated to not only meet but also exceed both short and long-term growth efforts, specifically:
Build a culture that embraces a continuous improvement mindset
Create a culture that embraces failure
Prioritize people over profits
1. Build a Culture that Embraces a Continuous Improvement Mindset
Ensuring both short and long-term success requires a focus on continuous improvement. Simply, continuous improvement requires companies to constantly reinvent themselves by taking a transformation always on mindset. Indeed, change, just like death and taxes, is one of the only certainties in life. The paradox is that people don’t like change and oftentimes, take a status quo approach because it is simply more comfortable. As Charles Kettering stated, "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress." Indeed, and as Charles Handy noted, “Anything that takes us out of our comfort zones for a while can act as a reminder that the past we are used to may not be our best future.” Throughout history, extraordinary results very rarely, if ever, happened in one, miraculous step but rather in small incremental steps (i.e., continuous improvements). While Olympic medalists certainly look tremendous on victory day, it’s rather the grueling, small positive steps taken over many years that allowed these champions to finally arrive at the winner’s podium. Similarly, enterprises must not let the need for short-term results, an inspired vision, the daunting nature of change, or the fear of failure replace the need for continuous improvements. Remember, you won’t improve by standing still; and, if you are standing still you are moving backwards. As Will Rogers noted, “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”
Consequently, top quartile performance doesn’t happen in one, miraculous step but rather by creating positive momentum that comes from embracing a continuous improvement mindset and taking one positive step at time. As Mark Twain stated, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Indeed, winners in today's landscape are those with speed rather than those with size as well as those that embrace the need for top-quartile short "and" long-term results. Consequently, and because change and volatility are the new normal, constant reinvention via continuous improvements is vital to keeping pace with customer’s ever-changing needs and expectations. As such, leaders must create a culture that embraces change instead of hiding from it. Accordingly, a transformation always on mindset is vital to success, meaning leaders must never condone a mentality “if it’s not broken, don’t worry about it.” Instead, if it’s not broken leaders must go make it better. Such a mindset ensures organizations are disrupting instead of being disrupted upon. Accordingly, visionary leaders create change instead of reacting to it by building a culture that asks how can we be better than we were yesterday - a notion that can only be answered via embracing a continuous improvement mindset.
2. Create a culture that embraces failure
Equally as important as creating a culture that embraces a continuous improvement mindset is creating a culture that embraces failure. Indeed, a fail fast, fail cheap, and learn quickly mentality should be adopted to ensure continuous innovation and long-term viability. Otherwise, organizations will be reacting instead of disrupting. Unfortunately, many enterprises, for fear of failure neglect to create of culture that embraces change. Unsurprisingly, the long-term outlook of such companies is generally poor. As Thomas Aquinas notes, “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever." Indeed, without a runway for failure don’t expect a runway for success. As such, both change and failure must be embraced, because failure is often the greatest learning tool. As Henry Ford noted, “It’s ok to fail: don't find fault, find a remedy.” Thus, if it’s not broken good leaders must tell their company to go make it better. Accordingly, leaders must create a culture where it's not only ok to fail but rather that it's expected to fail. Otherwise, change, innovation, and long-term goals will be merely pretty words that never take shape or drive lasting impact.
Ultimately, leaders as well as those on the ground often learn far more in the valleys than at the peaks. Remember, the lower the valley the higher the peak. As President Theodore Roosevelt stated, “Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory, nor defeat.” For example, as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." As Winston Churchill noted, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Remember, failure is success's best friend. Simply, above market growth, spurred by innovation, requires embracement of change and a culture that promotes failure. Remember, if you don’t have risk don’t expect innovation and if you don't embrace failure don't expect success. Simply, if you don't disrupt yourself someone else will do it for you. As such, both short and long-term success hinges on creating a culture that embraces failure.
3. Prioritize people over profits
Leaders of any organization have three obligations, specifically (1) engage its employees by creating an empowered, innovative, and inspired culture, (2) delight customers with world-class service excellence, and (3) deliver strong financial results. If the first two take place the third area (financial results) will take care of itself. Accordingly, leaders must never forget that while top and bottom-line growth are key for success it is not the point of leading. Profit is an aspired to outcome but it’s everything in the middle that truly counts in reaching that outcome. Simply, without an inspired culture, engaged employees, innovation, and loyal customers profits won’t happen no matter how much one leads for profits. Even if a leader sacrifices these aforementioned areas for short-term benefit the end will certainly not justify the means because long-term results were sacrificed. Remember, plan with the mind, lead from the heart, and reflect with the soul. By taking this approach a leader will be far more inclined to put employees and customer first. As such, engaged, inspired employees means engaged inspired customers which ultimately both domino into profitable growth in both the short and long-term. As Zig Ziglar noted, "You don't build a business, you build people, then people build the business." Profits are the outcome but people and innovation are what help you achieve that outcome. Simply, short and long-term results come from ensuring culture, employees, and customers are prioritized before profits.
To summarize, driving both short and long-term results are no longer a competitive advantage but rather table stakes for success. Indeed, visionary companies prepare for and invest in the long-term while demanding outstanding short-term results. Accordingly, leaders must completely forget this “either or” mentality and embrace the “and” (i.e., prioritize both short “and” long term). Indeed, in this Fourth Industrial Revolution where volatility is the new normal enterprises no longer have the luxury of playing catch-up but rather must continually disrupt instead of being disrupted. Simply, leaders, must embrace the “and” and permanently say goodbye to the “or” by keeping a watchful eye on both the short “and” long-term needs of the customer and enterprise. In addition, reconciling these two areas means embracing a continuous improvement, transformation always on mindset. While a leader may be tempted to drive short term results via cost-cutting remember that a company can’t cut and trim its way to top-quartile performance. Instead, the only way to survive is by having the musculature of a sprinter (i.e., drive short-term results), the endurance of a marathon runner (i.e., drive long-term results), and the mental fortitude to embrace a race with no finish line (i.e., drive continuous improvements via a transformation always on mindset). As such, great leaders must learn from the past, mind the present, and prepare for the future. Indeed, such an approach will ensure equal prioritization on both short and long-term results - the gateway to profitable and sustainable growth.
Read the other best leadership practices HERE.
Think Culture is Just a Buzzword? Think Again
Want Raving Customers? Create Raving Employees
The Path to Creating Distinctive Employee Engagement
24 Best Leadership Practices
- Series Overview -
The following article is Part 22 of a 24 part series on leadership (See all 24 best leadership practices HERE). To summarize, leadership is everyone’s business. Moreover, leadership abilities are not some innate talent that some were either born with or not but rather is a highly learnable skill. As such, everyone has the potential to become a great leader as long as one embraces a mindset of continuous improvement. Simply, leadership is not so much about inherent gifts and raw talent but rather the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong journey that is never mastered. Indeed, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace that there is never a finish line but rather an unending goal of continuous transformation.
Ultimately, the leadership journey is not about becoming someone else but instead is about becoming one's best self so that in turn one can help others become their best self. And, while there are many facets that go into successful leadership we have identified 24 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (see all 24 practices HERE).
INSPIRE: To inspire action, great leaders appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul.
EMPOWER: Great leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit.
INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and understand that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them.
Leadership is the greatest race one will ever run – one without a finish line but also one with an exponential ceiling for those that embrace change, growth, and learning. While the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. Although no leader will be a master at each of the proposed 24 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. As such, we hope the proposed practices will be of service to you in maximizing not only your leadership potential but also the potential of those around you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Juris Doctor (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.