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  • Writer's pictureJay Whitmer

The Long View

A few years ago I was invited to speak to a sharp group of young professionals downtown Cleveland. The ask was to share some career and life advice to inspire and equip ambitious 20 and 30 somethings. Who knew how much real life and learnings I had yet to experience around the corner (and still have in front of me).

But I remember pleading with the young legs in the room to consider the marathon ahead. It’s easy to sprint out of the gate in any endeavor only to run out of gas before rounding the corner. Without intentional and frequent tune-ups, our gears will come to a crashing halt. Or even worse, our critical mind gives birth to a cynical heart, which can quickly translate into misery, apathy, and hopelessness.

In order to see the long view, we can’t get consumed or overwhelmed with the moment of today. Nor can we be in such a hurry that we can only see the tip of our nose in front of us. This leads to narrow thinking, unbalanced priorities, or artificial objectives. Meaning things that don’t last or have real value.

In the corporate world, the most common detractor from consistent and sustainable success I’ve seen is the “quarterly mindset” that ticks to a predictable 90-day clock until the next earnings call. Particularly for public companies but frankly any business that focuses more on “getting to the number” rather than preparing and planning toward a bigger vision. Even at the expense of short-term results.

There are very few companies like Amazon or Costco that don’t care what analysts or investors think about a short 3-month performance period. These leaders are singularly-driven toward the long view and are already planning ahead for 2025. Or maybe even the next generation. When Jeff Bezos hears “great quarter” from investors, he chuckles out loud (with his patented belly laugh) since that quarter was made 3 years ago. This is 180 degrees from dealing with the “tyranny of the urgent” and putting out daily fires that weigh most of us down.

During my early days studying companies, I learned the hard way that short-term inflections don’t accurately reflect the bigger curve. Often I was looking for a downward trend on a fantastic long-term growth opportunity, or other times I was hoping to find a dim bright light on a dog of a company that looked “under-valued.” Both are mistakes that don’t accurately take into account the full story and more importantly the key ingredients of what it takes to win in the long run.

Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally consistently talked about a combination of three things that served as major long-term catalysts for the companies and businesses he led: a compelling vision, followed by a comprehensive strategy, supported by relentless implementation.

These business truths are great guides for personal development beyond our vocation. What is my mission and purpose, not for the next calendar year but for the rest of my years? If a compelling vision gives me defined and refined purpose, what’s my plan to strategically prepare and plan to get from here to there? And if I’m not willing to relentlessly act on this plan, then will I be able to ever accomplish the mission at hand?

If we struggle to answer any combination of these questions, either personally or corporately (including non-profit organizations), then it might be time to get back to the drawing board. Or white board. Or the cloud. Or whatever will help us re-assess and begin to think critically about the road ahead.

Where am I going, and do I have an intentional plan to get there? Am I carving out time to think and dream and prepare for the journey? If we reflect on just our own experiences, we all know that we won’t just accidentally drift to our desired destinations.

If we wait too long to consider the long view, all of a sudden we might have a stack of regrets and “what if” dreams. Woulda coulda shoulda.

And life’s too short to not go long.

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