Managing risk often requires us to be futurists. Forecasters. Experts in “looking around corners.” I think these are superb business and leadership competencies.
Being agile and nimble thinkers allows us to see patterns and to some extent, brace and prepare for future possibilities. Or avoid them outright. A surge of online traffic that might crash our site (don’t we all wish) to massive interruptions in our supply chain (which we’ve all experienced in the past twenty months).
But (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there) when we build this muscle of expectation and anticipation, it gravitationally pulls us to thinking and living in the future. Which is both valuable and damaging.
Through lots of difficult feedback and some increased self-awareness, I’ve come to understand that I live in the future. I absolutely don’t live in the past or for that matter even the present. I’ve fully accepted I can’t change anything in my past—I can only learn from it. One point for me. But that point earned is quickly forfeited because I am also incapable of living in the present—because I am so focused on the future.
It comes as no surprise to those who know me well, or anyone who follows me on social media, that I am always in “next” mode. What’s next? What’s coming up? What’s headed my way that I need to prepare for? Might be a negotiation. Entering a high-stakes conversation. The expectation of a confrontation or some conflict. I like to be prepared. Overprepared. I loathe being caught off guard, so much so that it never happens. I don’t allow it to happen because I am always thinking ahead. Even with small, inconsequential activities like being at lunch but thinking about dinner. Being in one meeting but thinking about another. Writing a blog but thinking about writing a chapter in a forthcoming book. I live an hour ahead. A full day or week or month or even year ahead. Every moment of every day, I’m focused on the future. Simultaneously valuable and diminishing.
Living in a future state of mind has absolutely served me well in certain areas of my life. I am always prepared, even for the unexpected.
It’s also minimized my relationships. Cut short conversations. And undoubtedly damaged my reputation. Nobody will tell you they feel valued or honored when they’re in my immediate presence. I don’t think they necessarily feel unvalued, but I’m not known for my rapt attention in the moment. Sadly, I rarely get credit for averting or eliminating crises because they don’t happen. Nobody knows about them because I’ve solved them before they happen. (Perhaps I should write a blog about all the personal and professional disasters I’ve mitigated because of my incomparable obsession with planning and thinking ahead.) Then I might get some credit—but from whom?
All things in moderation, right? Perhaps my fixation with managing and controlling the future is a bit much. Especially if nobody will be around with me to enjoy the averted crisis.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. As Todd Davis, FranklinCovey’s chief people officer writes in his bestselling book Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, “All our strengths, when overplayed, can become our weaknesses.”
How focused are we on avoiding risk, when that time might be better invested elsewhere? Like this delicious chicken salad my wife made for our lunch today. Just the two of us sitting on our back deck enjoying a stunning fall day. All three sons at school. The dog is asleep.
Remind me: what time is my flight to Mexico on Friday?
Principles of effective leadership have not changed, but when some team members are co-located, some work from home, and even more follow a hybrid model, leaders must apply those principles differently.
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