The following is a guest piece by Bruce Rosenstein.
How can leaders best shape the future of their organizations?
Despite all of the competing demands in a leader’s day, it is important to be focused on the future as well as the present. Peter Drucker, who was considered to be the “father of modern management,” did not mince words when he advised managers and leaders about the dangers of complacency and putting off the future. That’s why I believe that it is important to tap into some of his most pointed and provocative advice for creating the best possible futures for our organizations.
Consider how the following quotes resonate with your own conception of leadership as it relates to the future. What ideas do they give you for changing the future direction of your organization? And can they be applied not just to your own place of work, but to your entire profession?
…the seemingly most successful business of today is a sham and a failure if it does not create its own and different tomorrow. It must innovate and re-create its products or services but equally the enterprise itself.” – The Executive in Action, 1996
Can you think of examples of seemingly successful businesses that ultimately failed because they did not innovate and recreate everything from their products/services/processes to the basic fabric of the organization? What can you do, starting now, so that this does not happen in your own organization?
Management has no choice but to anticipate the future, to attempt to mold it, and to balance short-term and long-range goals. It is not given to mortals to do well any of these things. But lacking divine guidance, management must make sure that these difficult responsibilities are not overlooked or neglected.” – Management, revised edition, 2008
What strategies do you have for maximum effectiveness in the present while not neglecting long-range goals? Are there examples in your field you can draw on that have been successful in achieving this balance?
… [A business] must be organized for the systematic abandonment of whatever is established, customary, familiar, and comfortable, whether that is a product, service, process; a set of skills, human and social relationships; or the organization itself.
In short, it must be organized for constant change. The organization’s function is to put knowledge to work — on tools, products, and processes; on the design of work; on knowledge itself. It is in the nature of knowledge that it changes fast and that today’s certainties always become tomorrow’s absurdities.” – Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management, 1998
This is exceedingly difficult advice, even for the best leaders. Drucker is in essence saying that even if you are good at something, and you like doing it, and you have been successful with it, you must still be prepared to stop doing it to make way for something better and with more potential impact.
Systematic abandonment was one of his bedrock concepts. It challenges you to ask if you were not already doing a particular activity, or providing a particular product or service, would you start doing it today? And if not, how could you eliminate it, or scale back your involvement? In regards to the future, Drucker advocated using this with kaizen, or continuous, ongoing improvement. In this way, you drop what no longer works or makes sense, and improve what remains. This could lead, he believed, to genuine innovation.
As a way to take advantage of Drucker’s challenges, consider starting a Creating the Future notebook and/or computer file. At the beginning include your current attitudes toward the future in both the personal and organizational realms. On a daily basis, capture information you hear or read about in print and online that is relevant for the future, especially as it relates to how you can lead your organization to a stronger future. Include individual and organizational role models for the future. Make ongoing notations for potential opportunities, in the widest sense, that might lead to a more fulfilling future.
In creating the future, Drucker told me in a 2005 interview, seven months to the day before his death, that “knowledge work… is just beginning to be affected by new technology and overall by new concepts. And that’s the great frontier of the next … fifty years. It is predictable that in thirty or fifty years knowledge work, especially teaching, the biggest area of knowledge work will be radically different from anything it has ever been. The effective executive of tomorrow will have to make knowledge work effective, productive.”
Working with your notebook or file will remind you that the future in many ways represents an accumulation of your day-by-day, minute-by-minute thoughts, actions, commitments and decisions. In this way, you realize that your future begins today, and that as a leader you have a responsibility for creating the future that will affect everyone in your organization.
Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, a publication of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute (formerly the Leader to Leader Institute and earlier the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management), and Jossey-Bass. He worked for USA TODAY from 1987-2008, and since 1996 he has been an adjunct professor in library and information science at The Catholic University of America.
He is the author of “Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life” and his latest book, “Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way”. You can read more of Bruce’s writings on his website at www.brucerosenstein.com.