Leadership for Life – Keep Calm and Make a Plan

By on October 15, 2014
Keep Calm and Make a Plan

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As I was driving to work one morning last week, I heard a radio interview with retired General Wesley Clark, who was touting his latest book (Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership), in which he claims that US policies nearly always are inspired by or lead to some kind of war. Then we wait for the next big thing and we get into another war. General Clark might have something there. Even domestically, many of our policies are labeled as wars – the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, etc.

As we now enter into the War on ISIS, the War on Ebola, the War on Illegal Immigration, the War on Climate Change, et al, I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned about how we respond to crises and how we exercise leadership in general. How often have you been in the process of making a plan about some business issue, only to be faced by some crisis that had to be attended to immediately? Management By Putting Out Fires is a pretty common phenomenon in business as well as personal settings, and even though so many business gurus have railed against it, we still do it more often than not.

Someone wiser than I once said that “effective leaders live in the present, but concentrate on the future.” (If you know who said it, drop me a note and I’ll make proper attribution.) Regardless of the source, I think the idea has merit. Obviously fires can’t be ignored, but wouldn’t it be great if we could reduce or eliminate them so we don’t have to be putting them out every few weeks or months? Organizations that are continually dealing with urgent crises can’t put their resources into positive growth and development, and wind up treading water at best.

The role of a leader is, in part, to plan for the future – to build strategies for growth and development – and see to it that those strategies are executed effectively and in a timely manner. It’s important for a leader to make sure that s/he remains to some degree above the fray. That means allowing others to put out the fires, while the leader remains calm enough to develop new or revised plans to deal with potential futures. I’m not suggesting that a leader should be completely detached from the day to day operations of the organization, but s/he needs to be able to rely on others to deal with current concerns, while the leader focuses more on the future.

We know that long range planning isn’t as long range as it used to be. The pace of change these days is such that a two year plan is as long range as most of us can plan for. Despite that, leaders have to focus their attention on the future, and not allow themselves to get so caught up in the present that the organization makes no headway.

Download and print your own Keep Calm and Make A Plan Sign
Download and print your own “Keep Calm and Make A Plan” sign.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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