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Leaders With Perfect Vision Are Rare, But What About You?

Among the many talents and skills required by leaders is perfect vision, or to be more precise the ability to focus on both the short and the long term. This enables them to meet the dual imperatives of performance today and transformation tomorrow. At the best of times this ability is a rare talent, but in these times of slowing growth and increased uncertainty it is even rarer still. 

Leaders and their organizations have narrowed their gaze to focus on short term performance, prioritizing cuts, consolidation and efficiency.  The result is an short term uplift in performance. However, it is likely to be some time before we know the longer term implications of diverting resources and attention from those projects and initiatives that shape the future.

Perfect Vision

Leaders with perfect vision are rare – about as rare as a little-known optical condition called anisometropia. That is where a person is both nearsighted and farsighted – one eye is focused on what is near while the other is focused on the distance. Leaders who have this condition can focus not just on short term performance, but on longer term transformation too!

Attending to the needs of the short and medium term is naturally a priority, especially in these uncertain times. However, leaders must also keep an eye on the longer term. This is essential to ensuring the sustainability of performance into an uncertain future.

Nearsighted Leaders

Many leaders struggle to see beyond the short term – the performance of today’s products, technologies, channels, business models and so on. They are in effect nearsighted or myopic – that is the condition where objects that are close are perfectly in focus while, objects in the distance appear blurred and difficult to see.

By necessity, leaders are myopic – they must focus on what is immediately in front of them. That is performance this quarter, next quarter and next year.

Today, slowing growth and growing market uncertainty are putting extra pressure on short-term performance. Consequently, Leadership Myopia is on the rise. However, there is a very real cost to short-termism.

Myopia is on the Rise

With increased pressure on performance it is difficult for leaders to see beyond meeting the number. As evidence of this pressure, almost three quarters of leaders in PWCs annual global 2023 CEO survey expect slowing growth1.

Moreover, at a time when performance is most needed there is growing ‘performance paranoia’ with some service suggesting that more than 50% of the workforce is ‘quiet quitting’.

As a result of the pressure on performance, leaders’ eyes are locked on the spreadsheets and numbers, on driving productivity and efficiency, as well as consolidation and cuts.

Even the most visionary organizations have narrowed their gaze becoming more focused on the short term. Take Google and it’s famous ‘Moon factory’ which aimed at creating the technologies that would shape the future. In early 2023, as part of sweeping cuts at Google, it has been brought down to earth with a mandate to get commercial and focus on the now.

The increased focus on the short term has the potential to distract from longer term goals. That includes those more innovative and transformational projects and initiatives that are key to longer term success, but do little for short term performance. Indeed, in a resource constrained world, such longer term projects and initiatives may take from today’s performance requiring that the organization pay it forward and invest in programs and initiatives that in some cases may have uncertain future paybacks.

With an increased focus on the short term, many transformational initiatives have slowed or stalled. Others have been scrapped. In the busyness of the day-to-day, many strategic initiatives are taking place at ‘the side of the desk’. Starved of resources, they are increasingly relying on executives finding a spare hour here or there. In this way the bridge to the future is being dismantled.

Far-sighted Leaders

Leaders are continually reminded of the impermanence of success – the odds of any S&P500 company remaining in the top 500 list for a decade are no better than the toss of the coin2.

‘Only the paranoid survive’. That was the title of a best-selling leadership book in the late 1980s.  Which goes to show that concerns about an accelerating pace of change and the sustainability of performance are nothing new.

The clock is ticking on today’s cash cows, its dogs and even stars (to use the language of the BCG Matrix). As one of our coaching colleagues puts it: ‘Ok milk today’s products, channels, processes and technologies for everything you can, but be ready for when the milk runs out!’

Leaders must keep one eye on the future because, if they don’t, they are likely to run out of road in terms of their present strategies, products, technologies, channels and so on. Moreover, with an accelerating rate of change the future may be closer than it appears.  The lifespan of products, technologies, market trends and even organizations is shrinking. The danger comes not just from a better product, but a new method of delivery, a new source of value, new model or ecosystem.

  1. PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey []
  2. Scott D. Anthony et al., “Corporate Longevity Forecast: The Pace of Creative Destruction is Accelerating”, Innosight Executive Briefing, Jan. 2017) That is something that CEOs seem to feel intuitively, with nearly 40% of CEOs believing that their company will no longer be economically viable a decade from now, if it continues on its current path ((PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey []

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