One of the key differences between managing and leading is the focus on long-term vision. If we think of management as a focus on the here and now, depending on what we perceive, leadership, on the other hand, involves guiding activity towards a vision of the future. It depends on what we can imagine.
Making the shift from mere perception to future vision is a real challenge, especially for leaders new to their roles. But there are quick and powerful ways to fire up the imagination and clarify vision beyond the ends of our noses. We just need to get a little creative.
Irvings and Kings
In an interview with Vanity Fair, the great American writer John Irving reveals that before he begins a new book, he always knows what the last sentence will be. In all his decades as an author, for all the books he has written, this last line has never changed. Irving imagines the end, writes it, and then begins.
This strikes me very much as the leader’s obligation: craft that end line, and then work towards it. All your decisions will fall into place behind that vision.
On the other hand, Stephen King finds Irving’s way of writing anathema. Write the last line first?! Man, you’re eating the icing off the cake before you’ve eaten the cake! King never plots his novels. There is no defining vision (though he is a visionary). He simply writes it out and sees where it goes, making decisions on the way.
There’s something of the manager’s approach in how King works: nose to the ground, in the here and now, making decisions as though you’re riding a bike down a potholed side-street.
Craft the last line—the rest will take care of itself
Of course as a leader you need to have your pulse on day-to-day operations. You can’t afford to be a dreamer in an ivory tower. But if you don’t have a clear long-term vision, your decision-making will be misguided. You’ll react instead of respond. Sure, you’ll certainly arrive… somewhere. But it might be too late, or worse. (Anyone interested in EVs might look at what’s happening with Tesla vs the legacy car manufacturers—head-in-sand anyone?!)
So I challenge you: craft the last line. And I mean actually write it. This is where you get to be an artist. Fire up your imagination. The clearer you’re vision, the easier it will be to make the decisions that will get you where you, and your organization, want to be.