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How Leaders Can – and Must – Make the Long-term not a Plan, but a Mindset

By Larry Robertson
March 8, 2023

In Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times, author Larry Robertson writes about a new kind of leadership, one that matches these uncertain times and enables organizations to thrive: Rebel leadership. Rebel leadership isn’t what you might assume. It’s a new mindset for thinking and leading, one relevant at every level of the company. Five key insights define it. The following excerpt from his book describes the fifth insight: “The long view matters, right now.”

What leaders of any stripe want most is not simply to see their organizations survive or succeed in a single moment, but to sustain. Their highest aspirations take the long view. Their day-to-day decisions, however, often do not. Taking the long view is important. But pursuing it can’t be something you’ll get around to “one day.” Its most critical role is in the here and now.

The long view must be part of every choice and action made every day by everyone, even as it guides your vision of “someday.” Making the long view matter in the here and now is how rebel leadership cultures extend their existence and amplify their relevance.

What does it look like for the long view to matter right now? Google offers one clear example of a trend among those organizations thriving in these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times in which we all now work and live. Even though the company was at the top of its game and the market in 2013, Google proactively chose to explore the facts and see what they really understood about their own success and how to maintain it. They called the effort Project Oxygen. Going in, Google had working assumptions about why they were doing so well, not the least of which was a belief that having a strong team of engineers was key. You have to recognize that even just pausing to ask, “How do we know what we know?” at a time when their performance was strong is the exception to the rule. It is also an example of making the long view matter in this moment.

The company was floored by the findings. Rather than STEM skills , (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) being the key to their future growth, those skills turned out to be dead last in importance. Equally surprising were the skills that came out on top: the ability to make connections across complex ideas; being a good critical thinker; and being a good coach, listener, and communicator were all more important than STEM skills. It was a revelation that certainly informed their view of the road ahead.

Importantly, however, Google didn’t stop there. They took immediate actions to change the ways in which they operated, even though the bottom line suggested they didn’t need to. Then they went further, launching a follow-on project to dig deeper and see what else they might learn and improve on. All of it was a recognition that the successful future they aspired to create began at that moment. If they wanted to grow into that future, they had to make their vision of it tangible in the present.

How do you go about accounting for the long view in the here and now? In no small way, it boils down to mindset. Creating, innovating, and adapting are not come-and-go exercises you just pull out of a file in a pinch and can count on to work. The most reliable way to realize these abilities is by having what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.

According to Dweck, when you choose a growth mindset view of the world, you see the boundaries in that world as useful points of reference, albeit inherently temporary. You’re conscious of, and believe in, the opportunity to constantly expand your thinking, abilities, and potentialities. Innovating becomes part of your fundamental way of operating. In the process, you increase your ability to adapt–not someday, but right now.

A growth mindset is a frequent point of reference in leadership conversations. The trouble is, at least when it comes to organizational settings, this important insight has remained mostly talk. The reason is clear: Most think about the growth mindset in individual terms, not cultural.

When I spoke with Dweck about this idea of a cultural growth mindset, she said it logically follows that the basic tenets of the theory would apply at the group and cultural level as well. She pointed to shared purpose in particular. She suggested that it could function as a catalyst for a communal form of a growth mindset. Just as an individual must make the choice to adopt what mindset will guide them, organizations making the choice to actively pursue a shared purpose are in effect choosing the growth required to keep evolving toward a shared purpose.

You can’t just say or think “grow” and expect to actually advance. You have to put it in context. To manifest growth–along with its nearest cousins: adaptability, resilience, and creativity–the cultural mindset has to be a rebel leadership one, a mindset that includes the growth element but connects to the other insights of rebel leaders as well.

The long view matters, not just in the end, but right now.

Excerpted from Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times. Copyright 2020 by Larry Robertson.

Larry Robertson

Larry Robertson is an innovation and strategy advisor helping organizations and their leaders discover value at the nexus of leadership, entrepreneurship, and creativity. A Fulbright Scholar, he’s the internationally acclaimed author of 3 award-winning books: Rebel Leadership, The Language of Man and A Deliberate Pause. He’s also a popular columnist with Inc. Magazine, The Creativity Post, CEO World Magazine, SmartBrief, Fast Company, and other publications.

Larry Robertson

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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