When you’re driving a car, you shouldn’t focus on only the metre ahead of you. When you’re walking, you don’t put your entire focus on your next step. Leaders should use this principle too, but unfortunately too many fall into a reactionary state, focusing only on today or tomorrow’s activities and they forget to look ahead. If you’re not looking ahead as a leader, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.
Look ahead to align your team with the bigger goal
Consider the question, “Are we heading in the same direction as our department/company?”
If you answer, yes, that’s great. Share the news with the team, affirming everyone is heading in the right direction. If you answer no, the right thing to do might be to pause the team and reset the direction. There’s nothing worse than doing the wrong thing faster, resulting in work thrown away or reworked.
If you are not sure, what do you need to find clarity? To find clarity, you might need to align priorities with your manager or validate assumptions with other teams or departments. Seek the bigger picture and understand how your team’s work aligns with it.
Look ahead to find time to prepare
When you look at your backlog of essential topics, it’s unusual for all of them to fit into the small slices of time between meetings. How do you eat the proverbial elephant? One bite at a time. Look at your big topic and ask yourself, “What are the tasks or activities I need to do to complete this end to end?” Find ways to split ambitious goals into smaller tasks.
Once you have split a large piece of work into smaller tasks, make sure to you reserve time in advance to complete them. You won’t make progress if you don’t have time to complete each of the smaller tasks. Reserve dedicated times in your calendar one or more weeks in advance and protect that time. If people send you meeting invites in your reserved blocks and you accept their invite, you communicate that your reserved blocks are not essential.
Imagine you must present a yearly plan to your leadership team at the end of the month. List out all of the activities you must complete to build a good plan. Your list might include collecting input, producing an initial draft, asking for feedback, and incorporating the feedback into the final plan. For each of these activities, reserve time in your calendar for each of these activities spread out over at least a couple of weeks. You’ll want to give others time to digest your request, collect their thoughts and form their opinions.
Look ahead to anticipate and remove roadblocks
Your team will reach its destination faster if you anticipate, prevent and clear any roadblocks. Many of these are easy to plan for, but you need to sit down and think about the roadblocks you may encounter, and have enough time to either remove them or deal with them if they appear. You can respond to emergencies quicker if you have prepared contingency plans in advance and you have slack in your schedule to execute them.
Imagine that your team is releasing a new system in production. Your team is busy building the features for the MVP. Look a couple of weeks or months ahead to imagine what problems your team might face. Perhaps it’s a long approval process to get security sign-off or to have production firewalls configured. Maybe you suspect that a key external partner will fall behind their schedule, delaying the overall launch. Take out 15-30 minutes and list all possible roadblocks. Then spend more time finding ways to prevent or reduce the likelihood of each. If you know from experience, production firewall changes take a long time, start on this task early. Be sure to test and verify the change long before your team needs it. If you can’t eliminate roadblocks, like when a partner falls behind schedule, look for early indicators instead. With external partners, don’t cross your fingers, hoping they will deliver on schedule. Meet with them regularly looking at planned versus actual progress to understand how likely they will hit any deadlines you require. The earlier you have visibility of delays, the quicker you can manage it.
Look ahead regularly
It’s fun to be involved with your team on a day-to-day basis. It feels exhilarating that you’re always busy, rushing from meeting to meeting and reacting to emergencies. If you’re leading well, you should feel like you’re driving your day, and not the other way around. Plan for time at least weekly and monthly to stop looking at what you’re doing today and be sure to look ahead.
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