“I am looking forward to seeing you.” I am sure that you have either said that to someone or someone has it said to you. It is a statement that infers looking ahead with anticipation to a future event or possibility. As I reflected on that statement recently, I thought about how it relates to leadership.
I have read many books and heard leading authorities speak on the subject of leadership and, in my opinion, it is one of the most misunderstood subjects ever discussed. As a matter of fact, I once heard someone say, “You can tell whether you are a leader or not by looking behind you to see if people are following you.” I could not disagree more! How in the world is it possible to lead by looking backwards or over your shoulder to see if you are being followed (even if it is only a figure of speech)? It is virtually impossible to lead a business, a family, or a country by looking backwards.
I believe that looking forward or looking ahead is a necessary component to leadership. A real leader is one who looks forward, not backwards. “I am looking forward to seeing you,” is forward thinking and proactive in nature. Certainly there are things that we can learn from the past, but we must quickly take those concepts and apply them to the circumstances and situations of today and move forward with a positive, enthusiastic, and energetic attitude.
As a child, I used to watch my grandfather farming in his fields. It looked like hard work to me! Of course, I realize that farming is not what it used to be. Technology has changed the way planting and harvesting of crops is done these days. What used to take one farmer a full week’s work, can now been done in a matter of hours with a tractor (which by the way, comes complete with air conditioning and a stereo system with all the latest and greatest equipment installed in it).
My grandfather would hitch up the mule and harrow a row. He told me that the key to making the row straight was to fix your eyes on something ahead of you and walk toward it. He said if you made the mistake of looking to either side, or worse yet, looking back, the row would always be crooked. The secret to plowing a straight row was to keep your eyes always looking forward. And, the same is true of leadership; you cannot move forward in a straight direction by looking to either side or by looking backwards. It is a skill that involves finding a point of reference and moving in that direction with a steady gaze until you have gotten to your destination.
However, I believe there is one more key component in becoming a great leader. It is a simple concept that has taken me a lifetime to truly comprehend. Although the concept is simple, it is not easy. It requires a great deal of concentration and it is definitely forward thinking. It may be one of the hardest behaviors I have ever learned to develop and I am still working on it daily. It is counter-intuitive to everything that is taught about leadership. This is it: the key to effective leadership is for an individual to be more focused and concerned about who they, themselves, are following than who might be following them. You may have to read that sentence 2 or 3 times to let it begin to sink in.
There are only four very special individuals that I follow because I know they are older and wiser than me and they always walk in the right direction. I never have to be concerned about their counsel or advice. I know what they tell me will never be wrong or harmful. Therefore, they have become my “guides” as I seek to develop my own leadership attitude and skills. In other words, I am not worried so much about who is following me as much as I am concerned about whom I am following. I have discovered that if I follow with that kind of attitude, it does more to help my own leadership skills and abilities than anything else I can do. In other words, just like in plowing, as I keep my focus on someone ahead of me, my life will always be going in the right direction.
I hope these thoughts about “looking forward” as it relates to developing your own leadership skills will be of great value to you. I know they have helped me and I am sure they will do the same for you if you will apply them to your daily life!
Tip: I am looking forward to seeing you!
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm