In my work with executives and leadership teams, my clients often lament that their time with me is the only opportunity they take to step back and consider the longer term and strategic implications of their work. They are consumed by the day-to-day– the pressing problem that needs solving today, inking the deal this week, this month’s sales, the quarterly close. At best, their focus vacillates between near term executing and long term planning.
Feeling they have to choose between short term results and long term investment, these leaders are trapped in two ways. First, they feel unable to make the choice because both are important and their stakeholders expect them to deliver both now and in the future. Second, they’re trapped in the way they’re approaching the problem –as a choice of either delivering results or investing in the future – rather than an opportunity to both executing in the short-term and building for the long-term. The mental shift their roles require them to make as they attain more senior responsibilities is to move from either/or to both/and thinking.
In coaching with individual leaders using the Bates ExPI™, we capture this both/and requirement by looking at how leaders display both Vision and Intentionality. Vision is about how leaders engagingly convey longer term goals, and Intentionality is about aligning the work and keeping people focused on the path to get from here to there. For leaders, it’s about their ability to hold center amidst the storm of competing demands to keep the organization focused on making progress, and to execute the near term in pursuit of the long term.
Leadership teams collectively face a similar dilemma and our research into the distinguishing qualities of high performing teams points to Both/And Thinking as a cultural factor critical to building trust in the team. People inside and outside the team place greater trust in the team if it is clear that team members will strive to simultaneously address competing demands rather than make sub-optimal tradeoffs or choices. Among the behaviors assessed using the Bates LTPI™ is the team’s recognition that multiple perspectives may each contain truths. Other research corroborates the importance of Both/And Thinking as a practice of high performing teams.
While we’ve described this both/and behavior as it applies to senior executives and leadership teams, the challenges exist throughout organizations, such as when people in matrixed reporting structures need to find the balance between the expectations of two or more leaders. The principle still holds true: shifting to the Both/And Thinking mindset provides the lever to balance and hold constant both sets of expectations. (To learn more about Both/And thinking click here.)
In our podcast series, The Leadership Beat, Russ Eisenstat, the co-author of Higher Ambition, and I explore how leaders find the way to hold center on challenges such as short term vs long term results, financial vs social value creation, and individual vs collective purpose.
During our conversation, we discuss how leaders “build the future one quarter at a time.” This frames the way leaders simultaneously solve for the short term and long term by regularly stepping back to ensure their near term actions contribute to long term goals. Practically speaking, a quarterly offsite isn’t enough. Effective leaders and teams reserve time on a daily and weekly basis, even if only a few minutes, to assess their priorities against both time frames.
The next time you feel consumed by the daily pressures around you, step back and add a recurring reminder in your calendar. All you need is a 15-minute planning block to start down the road of Both/And thinking. This simple but powerful tactic will ensure this becomes a regular practice and get you on your way to building the future of your organization one quarter at a time.