Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Lead from "me" to "we": Define the past, present, and future, part of Executive Leadership.
- Especially during times of stress or change it's natural for people's focus on "me" to overcome their sense of "we". Fears and concerns steer people toward self protection and self interest. Survival mode kicks in. Am I safe? Do my interests matter here? Will my manager help me succeed? Even when things are going well, there are as many perspectives in an organization as there are people in it. So, during good times and hard times alike, executives need to draw people together and point them forward with clarity and energy.
They need to lead from "me" to "we". Here's how to do it. Here's a simple, adaptable, three part framework I use all the time with leaders that connects the past, through the present to the future. It rallies your people around unifying "we" answers to their natural "me" concerns. One. What should we be most proud of from our past? This goes straight to the most inspiring answers, to their "who are we" question. Emphasize the best parts of where we've come from.
Give evidence with examples. Instead of treating the past as irrelevant or emphasizing what's wrong about it, focus on the best things we accomplished, overcame, or learned. Two. What are the most important challenges and opportunities we face in the present? To have credibility it's important to acknowledge realistically what we currently face, instead of avoiding the problems that everyone knows about. And you'll also want to identify the opportunities that many might not see. Then based on those current opportunities, take up the third question, which naturally comes up next.
What are our inspiring ambitions for the future? Instead of dominating our focus on what's wrong, or merely surviving in the short term, give people a powerful possibility to live into. On this, American Express CEO, Kenneth Chenault likes to quote Napoleon. "The role of a leader is to find "reality and give hope". He says, "You have to tell the people you lead "what the reasons are to be hopeful". Inspire them to go for great outcomes. Past, present, future.
Each framed as a positive "we". Here's an example. It's from when I coached the research and development function leader in a firm with tens of thousands of employees after he had to cut his head-count and budget in half as part of a larger organizational downsizing during an economic downturn. Think of how demoralizingly refocused they could have been. I'm in a failed group with a dismal future and I better get what I can for myself or get out of here fast. Instead, here's how we used past, present, future to shift focus from distressed "me" to determined "we".
First part, about the past. We've been through tough times recently, but that doesn't erase what we've accomplished and the strong legacy we inherited to build on. And here he cited several contributions the R and D group made to the firm's product and service offerings. Second part, about the present. Now we're fighting to prove our worth to this organization. If we rise to that challenge, we'll secure an influential place in the strategic planning process for the company going forward, far into the future. Third part, about the future.
And we've got our sight set on even more than that. We can be the engine that drives our firm to industry leadership. And here he cited specific initiatives they were working on. Other firms have rebounded from downturns based on the next wave of innovation. Again, he cited some relevant examples. That's what we'll do too. We're going to drive the future of this firm. And then he explained how their initiatives would do it. Now when you practice this, you can get very good at generating sharp, straight-forward statements.
You can adapt it for your team, a business unit, or the organization as a whole. Continually update your list of answers for the three questions and you'll be ready any time, anywhere, for an impromptu response or a formal presentation. Franklin Roosevelt said, "A good leader inspires "others with confidence in him; a great leader "inspires them with confidence in themselves". Get into the habit of having solid motivating past, present, future statements, and you'll do both.
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- Understanding the four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.