Bridges to the Future: Are you leading with a Microscope or Telescope?

By Mark Withers


15 July 2020

In our previous article, we asked you to imagine you are in 2023 and are able to look back at this time. We asked you to consider what kind of leadership would you like to be remembered for.  

In our previous article, we asked you to imagine you are in 2023 and are able to look back at this time. We asked you to consider what kind of leadership would you like to be remembered for.  
In this blog we explore a second facet of leadership for such a time as this –  to use both the microscope AND telescope.
It’s true to say that you can’t look through both a microscope and a telescope at the same time. Not effectively anyway. You’ll be confused and end up with a headache. Yet leaders, now more than ever, need to get their organisations back on track and think about what the uncertain future will hold. 
The pressures of quarterly reporting means that for many it’s the microscope that will be the main tool in use as we enter this ‘recovery’ phase. Of course, there is a need for this. Revenues need to be secured, margins protected and costs realigned. There are likely to be structural changes made. Some people will lose their jobs. But … we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that this alone will ensure we reset the organisation for health and sustainability. 
Short term pain does not always equate to long term gain. The generally positive experience people have had of leaders during the pandemic will be quickly lost if short term actions aren’t taken with a bigger landscape in view. The reality is that if tough decisions are handled badly, your best people will leave when the market picks up. 
This means that the telescope must also be used. In our first mailing in this series, we explored the uncertain environment most organisations are navigating and how to deal with not knowing as leaders. One of the key lessons about making sense of the future is that it needs to be a team sport. The more we share data, intel, perspectives about what’s happening externally and within the organisation the better placed we will be to take the best next step. 
To use both microscope and telescope simultaneously, some organisations have a team focused on bringing the business back on track and a separate team dealing with what’s going to happen in the future. You may not have this luxury and need your teams to address both issues. Whatever approach you choose you can’t look at both at the same time. Be intentional about the time you need to set aside for different things:
(a) get the organisation back on track
(b) think about the pathways to the future 
(c) create the story you need to tell about your journey from (a) to (b). 
The one thing you cannot afford to cut is time out as executive or functional leaders to focus thinking on the future and the journey you need to take to deliver that future. 
Here are some questions to consider:

  • How are you ensuring that appropriate leadership time is being spent on (a) getting the organisation back on track and (b) thinking about pathways to the future?
  • How are you including others in helping you with the above? 
  • How clear are you about the story you need to tell about your organisation of today and the organisation you’ll become in the future?  

Our next article in this series will explore the need for compassionate leadership at such a time as this. 

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