I grew up riding horses. One lesson that has always stuck with me is the idea that you should look at what is ahead of you, to where you intend to go, not at where you are or where you don’t want to go. You can’t guide your horse if your eyes are on your hands on the reins; you can’t navigate obstacles if they go unseen. As I’ve gotten older, this lesson has taken on broader meaning to me. You see more with your head up. Are you looking at the grass under your feet or toward the horizon and at everything in between?
This TEDTalk by leadership expert Roselinde Torres suggests that many leadership development programs are preparing leaders for the world of yesteryear, not to be successful today or tomorrow. She suggests three things that differentiate great leaders in our current day and age:
- They anticipate change proactively – they don’t keep their heads down and respond to change as it happens, they carve out time to “look around corners”
- They cultivate a heterogeneous network – they don’t surround themselves with people just like themselves, but with people from a diversity of backgrounds
- They go outside of their comfort zones – they are willing to take risks and try things that are different than what worked before.
I would suggest that the first two points have a shared underpinning, which is an orientation toward gathering information from a wide array of disparate sources and piecing it together to perceive the pattern underlying it all. People who read, travel, and network broadly give themselves access to a wealth of information that helps them to see the big picture and to take the long view – which leads to more and better ideas and solutions. Truly great leaders hone this capacity and take it one step further, demonstrating courage and conviction of their ideas in order to move themselves and their organization from average to excellent. Truly, in this day and age, a leader has to be looking up and out in order to situate themselves for success in an ever-shifting environment.
“The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.”
—Sir Winston Churchill