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How to Be a Leadership Time Traveler

Leadership is a uniquely challenging calling. It continually asks us to stretch our thinking beyond ourselves. Every single day, we are charged with addressing a sizeable and intricate Big Picture — much larger than our day-to-day tasks and private responsibilities. Unlike individual contributors (who are important and essential in their own right), as leaders we have to balance a rich and nuanced personal agenda while consistently managing an endlessly complex organizational and stakeholder agenda. Always, we must be thinking about broadening the small, individual realm of our immediate circumstances so we can expand our influence positively to better reach everybody. We really have no choice. It’s a fundamental truth that, as leaders, our actions have effects that extend far and wide, whether we realize it or not. Every decision, no matter how small, has the potential to cause a huge ripple. So we better make sure the ripple we cause is the right — and best —  one.

As leaders, our actions have effects that extend far and wide.

Realizing and embracing the far-reaching effect of our decisions is a big responsibility. And it’s not one we should take lightly.  Rather than shy away from the sometimes overwhelming scope of our sphere of influence, we can choose to “lean in” to the exponential impact of our leadership and approach it responsibly — and with discipline. The first step is acknowledging that our orbit of influence is substantial, and always growing. Which means our approach also has to be constantly developing. We need tools and practices that help us properly leverage our expertise on-demand to achieve the best outcomes.

The first step is acknowledging that our orbit of influence is substantial, and always growing.

One thing that can materially help us to make better decisions moment-to-moment is to think about our sphere of influence as not only extending to all our stakeholders, our organization, and our community — but across three time zones as well: The Past, The Present, and The Future. What we do today affects all three places in time. We must become leadership “time travelers”; to lead effectively,  we have to be able to transport ourselves to all of these times zones — mentally, intellectually, and emotionally — within the space of a mere instant. Otherwise, we may not appropriately honor the past, present, or future, and the consequences could be dire. To understand this better, I view the specific demands of each time zone this way:

The Past: A leader must learn from and honor the past.

The Present: A leader must meet the expectations of the present in a quality way.

The Future: A leader must create a clear and tangible path for a more prosperous future.

So when faced with thorny decisions, how do we ensure we routinely honor the three crucial time zones at the heart of 21st century leadership? I have a simple but highly effective habit for leadership “time travel” that works for me time and time again. It only takes sixty seconds but within that short time frame I am able to unearth helpful insights and recalibrate my decision making in a most efficient way. I run through a 3 Time Zone Checklist. Using this handy checklist, I mentally visit each time zone and measure my proposed plan of action against these three questions:

CHECKLIST & QUESTIONs:

Past: Have I taken a clear-eyed look at the past and does this course of action reflect what I’ve learned from doing so?

Present: Am I thinking clearly in the present and does this course of action productively honor the expectations of today?

Future: Am I compromising the future and does this course of action pave the way for continued prosperity and success?

Although it only takes one minute to run through this checklist in my head, I have found that it makes my decision making much better. If I’ve missed something important, I will almost always catch it and course-correct. The more I practice this habit of leadership “time travel” – the better, and quicker, I become at it. And the more confident I can be that I’ve done the due diligence necessary to competently make decisions that may affect hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people. As we work to conscientiously manage the increasingly messy and grand breadth of our decision-making responsibility — we owe it to our people to take the time to ensure we are making the very best call in every circumstance. When we practice holding ourselves accountable to the demands of the past, present, and future we are wielding our always-expanding sphere of influence with the proper care it deserves. Otherwise, our leadership can become sloppy, ineffective, and irresponsible.

We must hold ourselves accountable to the demands of the past, present, and future.

I encourage you to incorporate this habit into your leadership practice. Within the space of a mere minute you can transport yourself through time, assess your actions with discipline, and deftly handle your leadership influence as it spreads and grows.

Have you gone through the checklist and discovered something surprising, insightful, wise, or different as it relates to your decision making? Drop me a line in the comments and share your experience.

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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3 Comments

  1. Surendra Soni

    What I feel is that such time travel helps one enter into the dimension beyond the flow and rush of time. Such a bird’s eye view over past, present and future helps one enter the value dimension which totally alters the quality of time and helps one make best decisions possible in the nick of time. Thanks a lot for this wonderful piece…

    • DouglasConant

      @disqus_EErhp4QXQk:disqus Glad to hear you enjoyed the piece. I quite like the visual you shared of this exercise being a way to have a “bird’s eye view” over past, present, and future. Cheers, D.

      • Surendra Soni

        Thanks a lot…but I wish to further emphasize the different dimension which one enters in the process of having such a bird’s eyeview as one glances over the flow of time through past-present-future. This is the value dimension as I wrote earlier. It alters the quality of time altogether and helps one give one’s best as per the need of the moment.

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  1. Fascinating Leadership Links to Read Right Now - - […] **For more on seeing the future, explore our post on becoming a leadership time traveler. […]

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