Focus on the Future: Be Mindful of the Legacy You Leave

It is customary this time of year to look back at the year in review and forward to next.  Here is a way of thinking about the present that I learned from one of the best business leaders I have ever known.

William is a manufacturing executive with process production in his blood. He has that relentless focus on uptime that makes a factory profitable.  Yet he is always mindful of the planning and downtime needed to keep himself, his facility and his people ready for what is next.

On Christmas day this year I got to take a snowshoe hike in the Vermont woods and see a wonderful example of what William tells me is his year end ritual.  “Today is next year’s past.  So I think about the legacy I want to leave in the coming year at the end of this one.”

Like our tracks in the snow, we often pass though our daily routine with much more focus on the destination than on the impact we make in the transition.  Yet getting lost in the concern about our impact can impede progress.  During one of our conversations this year, William shared this thought with me.  “There are times when a bull-in-the-china-shop approach is needed.  When the line is down or when old habits are harmful then you need a focus on the change above all else.  But if the way you get the changes done is more harmful than the benefits you create… well, neither things nor people last that way.  I am always concerned about an up and coming executive who gets things done by bullying.  The results do not last, and usually neither does the bully.”

A future focus is important in leadership, as is mindfulness of the present.  While most leadership literature discourages focusing on the past, one way to engage with it is to think of today as tomorrow’s past.
So, while we all need laser focus on results in a tough economy, the year end is a great time for leaders to consider: How do I want to traverse the year?  What is the legacy of this year that I want to look back on at the end of the year?  What kind of tracks to I want to leave behind?”