When it comes to planning, some people are nearsighted, finding it easiest to focus on details and the accomplishment of daily tasks. Others tend to think a few weeks in advance, while visionaries toy with big ideas that might come to fruition many years later.

These are all valuable perspectives, and there’s a place for them in every work environment. But, one of the things that a successful leader does is make sense of the near, middle, and far. It’s a long game, one where they discover ways to bridge these perspectives and align their team members to that greater concept.

A Collection of Parts

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln, former U.S. president

An organization or team cannot afford to remain solely focused on the demands of the short term. There are always piles of tasks and details that need to be taken care of each week. Perhaps an email that needs to be written, a meeting that needs to get scheduled, or a key conversation that cannot be delayed. But, remaining entirely focused on these tasks is like trying to swim across a lake and never lifting your head to verify your location. You’ll end up nowhere near where you intended to be.

""The tasks your team accomplishes in the short term should help complete or leverage an activity. These activities occur every 30, 60, or 90 days. However, if an organization or team remains too fully focused on the completion of activities, or the mid-term view, details may get overlooked and, as time passes, major course corrections will be required.

Objectives come into play every three, six, and nine months. They’re followed by yearly and multi-year goals. This is the area in which visionaries, the people who are always looking to the future and talking about big ideas, really shine. Objectives and goals are undeniably important, but when an organization or team is too firmly focused on what they wish to accomplish later on down the road, it can prevent things from getting done in the near term.

Putting It Together

In a well-functioning organization or team, tasks lead to activities, activities allow for the completion of objectives, and completed objectives reach goals. Each must be meaningfully connected to the next, otherwise the goals will never be met. Team members can also struggle to find the deeper value in their daily tasks when those tasks aren’t obviously connected to a larger purpose.

As we wrote in our book, Would You Work For You? — The Quest: Discovering the Leader Within, “Helping the team ‘connect the dots’ between the activities of today and intermediate and long-term plans is a necessity. Yet, the inertia of the daily demand on team members will create a situation where the overwhelming majority of responsibility for the long-term success will reside with you.”""

You must help your team members look ahead in the way that will allow them to be most successful. Human rights activist Desmond Tutu said, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” As a leader, you can make sense out of each bite by providing a structure to your team and linking that structure to your intended outcomes. Don’t merely incorporate a structure for planning but include structures for communication and authentic celebrations when milestones are met. This will help keep your team motivated and invested in your long-term vision.

Keeping the Alignment in Place

In our book we wrote, “It’s up to you to chart the course, continue to look ahead, and stay true to the course you have set, regardless of what other people think or the demands being placed on the work today.”

""It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of today and allow yourself to become immersed in short-term thinking. Your team will also feel that pull. But, when that occurs, you will begin to drift from your long-term goals and that can pull you away from the ultimate purpose of your work.

Team members remain in their jobs because they understand the greater purpose of their work, and they are aligned with that greater purpose. If you can chart a course where immediate, mid-term, and long-term goals are all meaningfully connected, not only will you retain valuable team members, but you’ll also be far more likely to arrive at your intended destination together.

“The backbone of success is hard work, determination, good planning, and perseverance.” — Mia Hamm, soccer player

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