Leaders possess an unconscious, gut-level idea of where they are and where they’re likely to go—a “default future,” say two close observers of business.
Your default future is deeply rooted in your assumptions, hopes, fears and experiences, say Steve Zaffron, author of The Three Laws of Performance, and Dave Logan, who teaches at USC’s business school.
In good times, you ride a wave of optimism and ignore any dark clouds, while in bad times, you may let emotions overtake you.
“If I see fear coming at me, and anxiety, and everything’s bad and horrible and terrible,” Zaffron says, “my actions are going to be correlated to the way that world occurs to me.”
In tough times, you want the information pipeline to open wide. However, the flow often is constricted.
Maybe you’re not sure what to tell people. But if you don’t communicate, they’ll follow their hunches.
You need to identify the default future, discuss it, analyze it and then reinvent it.
Example: About 14,000 feet up in the Andes mountains of Peru, the new leaders of an American-owned copper mine discovered that its workers belonged to different strata of a regional caste system; the firm’s two unions had been fighting each other for years; and everybody was stuck with 15 single-year contracts that each took half a year to negotiate. Constant turmoil resulted. That was the default future.
The new managers gathered 60 people—all the stakeholders—in a room and asked: Is this what you want? The leaders proposed an alternative future: a high-performing, world-class operation. After a long silence, one worker stood up and said, “Long live the future.” Together, the stakeholders wrote a five-year agreement, the first of its kind in Latin America.
Advice: Invite your people to reconsider the implications of your particular mess. You may find that you have business partners you never expected.
— Adapted from “Leading Out of the Downturn,” Rob Norton, Leading Ideas Online, www.strategy-business.com.
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