As spring moves toward summer, many students are ready to put on caps and gowns, listen to commencement speeches, and begin a new journey. It’s a season of change. Some emerging scholars have already accepted new positions and new assignments. Others are riding a wave of momentum into additional education. Most graduates have learned to steady themselves and expect the ubiquitous questions. At the top of the list of questions is the persistent inquiry, “What are you going to do after graduation?” It is a question that blends two stalwart leadership themes. Do you have a strategic plan for the next stage of your life? Does your decision-making process align with your vision of the future?
Although you may have graduated a long time ago, the questions that surround planning and decision-making do not go away. People continue to gaze into the future and ask, “What are you going to do?” In other words, “Do you have a strategic plan?” and “Are your decisions moving you in the right direction?” When it comes to leadership, variations of these questions are frequent topics in conversations. After all, leaders are expected to share a compelling vision and model the way. Strategic leadership exemplifies the fortitude required to overcome obstacles and move people and organizations forward. Great plans for the future rise and fall based upon successful execution along the way and execution comes down to daily decisions.
Strategic planning and decision-making processes would be so much easier if life was predictable. But it’s not. Leadership requires more than a good plan. It requires preparation for the unexpected. In “Summoned to Lead” Leonard Sweet emphasizes the importance of preparation for the types of ambiguity that leaders face today. “We live in a world of radical indeterminacy and acute uncertainty. In this world of volatility, leaders need sight-reading and sigh-reading abilities. They need to be willing to see when something isn’t working and adapt so that it does work. Or kill the whole thing and start over.” Preparation allows for leaders to be authentic and nimble in the midst of constant flux.
Preparation is not a substitute for a strategic. It creates a reservoir of character for effective execution. Planning continues to be a critical activity. Likewise, questions about the future do not diminish the value of clarity. Clear communication helps equip emerging leaders with a process for aligning decisions with a bigger picture. But, if you fail to prepare for the unknown, you will meet the unexpected without the proper foundation. What type of preparation is most effective for leaders today? Preparation must engage you with deeper issues of life. Are you willing to explore your identity, attitude and beliefs? What are the patterns and processes of life that help and hinder you? Without preparation, emotional and impulsive reactions can plague your decisions and push you and your organization off course.
If these symptoms are prevalent in your leadership culture, it’s a sign that you need to devote more time to preparation. You need to invest in a process that will dig deep and prepare you for what lies ahead. As uncertainty grows, the need for deep transformation and preparation increases. You will never be able to control the details of the future, but you will be able to prepare to respond in a manner that is consistent with your core values.
Recently, I attended a preschool graduation. Though the commencement speech was far shorter than most I’ve heard. The message was fitting for graduates at all levels. The Preschool Director read from the great leadership guru, Dr. Sues. The Dr. raises some profound questions relative to strategic leadership, decision-making and preparation. Great leaders prepare to travel where the streets are not marked.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they’re darked.
But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?”
—Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
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