Number 76 of David Niven’s The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People is “Always think about what’s next.”
In that book, there was a story about two people, Barry and Judy Wirth, who own an independent pet store called ProPet. Pet superstore chains soon moved into surrounding towns. These chains had enormous supplies, great varieties, and were able to decrease prices on dog food, the biggest-selling item in the pet store, because of their purchasing power.
The Wirths did not know how to face this challenge of competing with bigger stores, although they have the business expertise to succeed in the pet store business.
“I looked at every aspect of what we did – and looked for things we could do better,” Barry explains in The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People. Although they had been completely independent for a long time, Barry and Judy decided the future lay with a pet supply cooperative that allowed small stores to operate with the collective purchasing capability of hundreds of others.
Barry also mentions in The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People that the continued success of the store is dependent on one thing: “We need to keep up with the future direction of this business. If you didn’t change to keep up, you’re going to be blindsided.”
Like Barry and Judy, great leaders do not just stop when obstacles block their way, and most especially when those obstacles are cleared out of the way. They continue. Even before any unexpected events happen, they already know what to do next.
The Wirths already knew that they couldn’t monopolize the pet store business. They knew that one day, superstores would emerge all over town to be their competitors. They knew how not to give up by knowing exactly what to do when that happens.
Knowing the cause and consequences of each action being taken is an ability that leaders should develop. They should be aware of each option there is in solving a problem and should be able to identify the pros and cons of each one. They should know how to strategize. If we do Plan A, Outcome 1 or 2 could happen. If Outcome 1 happens, we should wait. But if Outcome 2 happens, then we should proceed with Plan B immediately.
A great leader should be able to see the big picture. He should be able to focus on the entire project and not just dwell on petty problems. He concentrates on the present, but considers the future equally. Leadership is not about getting along with your people on this present journey, but leading them towards tomorrow’s success.
Bringing Out the Planner in You
Every great leader has a clear vision. With this vision is an outstanding plan that would lead him and his people in making it happen. The following aspects are crucial in planning.
1. Set a little time off. Walk alone in the park, order coffee while sitting back at a cozy café, or just lay back on your front yard. Whatever it is, set some quiet time for yourself to be able to just think and plan. Sometimes the best ideas come out when you are alone and secluded. Record any of your thoughts and ideas, then organize them later.
2. Clarify the task in your own mind. Visualize what the finished task or product should look like. Sometimes, leaders are disappointed with the work their people return to them because they themselves are not clear about what they wanted in the first place. Let your imaginations work. Anticipate.
3. Don’t be a perfectionist. If you receive a work that is not what you have in mind, discuss it, so that you can sort out the misunderstanding. If the work is acceptable, say, “This is fine for this time, but next time I’d like it done this way.” Getting someone to redo acceptable work constantly to make it perfect is demoralizing, frustrating, and a waste of time. Again, set standards so that it would be easy to know what shall pass and what shall fail.
4. Do it right. Choose planning tools that help you organize your meetings, appointments, tasks, projects, etc. in a consolidated manner. For example, find one form that serves more than one function, rather than having to deal with 6 different papers. If you’re using something that doesn’t help you feel organized, replace it with something that will.
5. Follow up. Agree to check work in progress. If the person you have delegated to was given a week to complete a task, check with him in three days. Ask, “How are you doing on this project?” Rather than “Have you finished yet?” The latter puts him on the defensive end and increases pressure. You can catch potential problems in the task by checking up early.