It's gonna be a long road back to the '30,000 feet' level of leadership - the point where we can plan effectively for the long-term.
But at least we're not still down at runway level, scrabbling just to get through the day and the week.
So, where, precisely, are we right now?
Call it 'leading from 5,000 feet'. It's hard. It's uncomfortable. But it's a vital next step, and it's important we get it right - otherwise we'll stall out and never get back to anything close to normalcy.
In today's video, I talk about leading from 5,000 feet, and lay out five principles to succeed at it:
Please leave me your questions and observations in the comments below!
(psst: you can also download a pdf of the transcript )
Running time: 07' 36" Don't forget to leave your comments below!
it feels like in the last couple of weeks most leaders have
begun to get some elevation. And what I mean by that is that
while we are nowhere near in a position where we can lead
from 30,000 feet - you know with a long time horizon, able
to think strategically in the long term - while we're nowhere
near that, we're no longer down at runway level, working in
the trenches, just doing triage, trying to get through the
next day, barely even able to see towards the end of the day,
the end of the week.
We're sort of at a what I'd call a 5000 feet level right
now. Folks have got at least some perspective into the next
couple of months.
Some folks have got a clear view for a quarter, some even
for quarters three and four. But it's a strange and slightly
awkward place to be, because as leaders, we're used to
having that 30,000 foot view - being able to think strategically,
plan in the medium and long term, and we're also typically
pretty good at getting down at runway level, getting our hands
dirty - ust helping get through the day. But this strange
sort of five thousand foot level,
well, it's just that it's a little strange. I likened it the
other day to that part of the airplane takeoff where you
haven't got through the cloud cover yet.
You can still feel that you're ascending but it doesn't feel
like you've reached anywhere near a cruise level. And so in
being here, at this five thousand foot level,
it's clearly an important that we use this time correctly,
because if we don't think the right way now, we're not going
to get to 10,000 feet, [let alone]15 20 25 30 thousand feet.
So I just want to lay out a few principles from what I've
seen, not just now but in similar times in the past (all
the caveats about 'similar' -
I've said them often enough to just asterisk that
this is not similar, but you know what
And the first thing is this, and I've been experiencing this
a lot with my coaching clients over the last couple of weeks
You know, give yourself a break. Almost every leader.
I've talked to
feels bad about something. "I missed something."
"I didn't pivot early enough here."
"I had to let people go." There are many of my clients who feel bad
because they're actually doing well, and their business is
thriving, their church is growing, and I just want to say look,
cut yourself some slack.
Nobody saw this coming this way.
If we did we wouldn't be here, and it's not going to help your
folks if you're leading them from a place of guilt, so just
give yourself a break and let's move forward.
The second principle is my suggestion is to plan for quarter
three, and if you can, through quarter four against two
extremes. In blunt detail, that means planning for a fierce
second wave of Coronavirus.
And the other plan is for that not to happen, and for the
economy to begin to react to that having been the only wave.
Now this is not a political statement.
It's not even a scientific statement.
I'm just making an economic statement that my recommendation
is that you plan against those two extremes because you'll
be executing somewhere in between, and you need to be able
to know how to tack
between those two extremes.
It's highly unlikely that either of those two extremes
(let's hope) will happen.
I'm strongly of the opinion that we'll be somewhere in between
in between where, we'll have patchy responses and localized
flare-ups and we need to be prepared for that.
The third thing is for 2021 now is the time to run some scenario
plans. Not to put together detailed.
plans - we can start to do that in quarter three, maybe
even if we're fortunate in to Quarter 4, but now is the time to
start to run some scenarios - what ifs. Put together four or five
of them, get a team of trusted people around you (more on that
in a second) and just play it out.
You don't need to produce a written plan at this point - to
do so, I think, might be futile just right now - who knows
where we'll be - in two weeks
I could be recommending that - the half-life of information on
our time horizons is very short at the minute.
But for right now just game some scenarios out for 2021.
Now, my fourth point is a caveat to that which is this: This is
not a good time to be in general musing out loud.
You don't want all of your folks to watch your inner dialogue
So that means in order to do your planning you need to get
a trusted group of people with whom you can do that
without spooking everybody else.
Everybody wants some clear direction right now and particularly
for those of you who are Visionary leaders in our VOPS model,
we talk to think - that's how you will work stuff out, and
you need to talk with people about it, maybe even argue about
it, but make sure that you're doing that with a group of
It's even more helpful if they're not directly involved in your
own organization, though.
you may well need some of your senior people to bring their
subject matter expertise, but keep that group as small as
possible until you're beginning to see the outlines of something
that you can be sure about. And the final thing -
the fifth thing - is this: Don't descend.
Now what I mean by that is that we've begun to get a little
bit of upward velocity so to speak and I'm talking not
in economic terms, of an economic return, I'm talking in
terms of the elevation from which we can see forward.
Like I say, we're at about a sort of a five thousand foot
level at the moment.
You should not be still nailing stuff down
at runway level, but you will have pitched in - you'll have
been doing things that you weren't doing before, that you
took back on - maybe you just jumped in and helped anywhere
you can. Now is the time to start to move away from that if
you're the leader of your organization, because you need to
begin to be able to think strategically, and to lead strategically.
Now, I know that particularly for some of the smaller organizations
out there, you just may not be in a position to do that.
You might have had to cut back so far that you're going to
have to continue to do some things that you thought you would
not be doing round about about now in your career.
But even if that's the case, you need to start putting the
Lego bricks in place to begin to keep your elevation - in terms
of the time horizon that you're planning for - leveling upwards.
So, don't descend.
I'm Les McKeown, please scroll down leave me some comments.
Tell me what your thoughts are about leading at 5,000 feet.
Let's make it a great week.
Good information, and would suggest that leaders find time for self care. We all needed to react on the fly and figure things out, when a lot of staff were running home to family, as leaders needed to provide direction in a new situation. Therefore a little self care time before the next wave or back to full operation is needed whatever way the road runs.
Thanks, Walter – I agree entirely!
Les. Great information as always.
Appreciate that, Rick!
Les, thank you for these short videos. I have walked away from each one of them with an important learning.
Today, the “scenario” planning really struck a chord. This will allow us to embrace the innovation, movement into a space that we create that will ensure our medium and long-term future, that you discussed previously. Theme based or scenario planning will enable the prioritization of our broader initiatives, and help to move us from the fixed feature sets that guide most planning. This in turn should allow us to acknowledge and deal with the increasing uncertainty of the future since our planning focus can be on the “Now”, “Next”, and “Later”.
My pleasure, David – thanks for the response!