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Traffic Un-Jammed: Keeping a big-picture perspective at 70 miles per hour

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You know, the more I think about it, the principles we apply when trying to get out of a traffic jam are fundamentally the same principles successful leaders use in steering their enterprises forward. Those who do not apply them often find themselves, and their companies, trapped and ineffective in meeting their goals and expectations.

Here’s an explanation by means of a story.

I recently took a trip, like many of us do, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. At one point during the trip, we encountered a significant traffic jam. Being down in the traffic jam, it was hard (even with the assistance of a friendly-voiced navigation system I call Nav Lady) to make clear decisions that would help us find a freer route. Either we were moving along and having to make decisions about exits and lane changes quickly, or we were sitting still.

Here we were, wedged bumper-to-bumper into the wrong lane, zooming along, with the Nav Lady chirping at us that we could go faster if we were to take the exit 3 lanes away and 50 feet in front of us. Exit left? That wasn’t going to happen in this kind of traffic.

Suddenly, we were stopped completely, brake lights as far as we could see. After a few moments of sitting still, Nav Lady solemnly intoned, “there is a 13-minute slowdown up ahead due to a wreck. You are on the fastest route.” Of course, then she promptly lost her GPS signal, making her think we were on a different road entirely, and proposed all kinds of traffic acrobatics to get back to the route we were already on.

Like most people at this point, I wasn’t sure I could really trust Nav Lady.

I kept thinking to myself – if we could only see the bigger picture, see beyond what was right in front of us, we could make better decisions. And, even better, if we not only could see what was happening now but had some sense of how the current situation would develop and change as we all rolled forward, we could really make better decisions.

These two elements: big-picture perspective, and predictive modeling, are the two most significant qualities of leaders after emotional intelligence. Yes, emotional intelligence is the most significant management skill. But in terms of financial performance, innovative agility, and long-term sustainability, these two leadership elements can take a well-managed enterprise and turn it into a powerful tool for achieving significant goals.

Why is that?

Predictive Modeling

shutterstock 692296939Predictive modeling is a gamechanger because so many people just don’t do it – or do it in any reliable way. Predicting where things are headed is something many leaders try to do intuitively, without good information. Meanwhile, most of our common reporting mechanisms (e.g., financial statements, time tracking, client contact information), are all recordings of what has happened already, not what is going to happen. We then have to go back and correct what already happened, consuming time and energy dealing with the past. Reading these reports tends to push us to a cost (rather than a profit) orientation.

Instead, when we build the tools we need to quickly (and accurately) use past information to predict future developments, we begin to model our organizational systems and use those models to make decisions about where we go next. Instead of just working with our gut feelings (which many of us use intuitively well), we can check those gut feelings against real information. We start to make predictions between things based on the real relationships between our activities, our people, and our decisions, and we find success building upon success.

Big-Picture Perspective

But predictive modeling is only as good as our sense of the whole. And that is why maintaining big-picture perspective is so essential. Here again, big-picture perspective is a gamechanger because so many people just don’t do it (or perhaps more accurately, don’t keep up with it).

The very practices we use to increase our daily and monthly productivity often work against our big-picture perspective. The way we schedule tasks, set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and work to focus on our highest priorities often helps immediate productivity by breaking problems, tasks, and projects down into small chunks. But the more small chunks we have, the harder it is to see the whole.

So everyone – no matter their role – needs to see the big picture at some level. And especially those who are leaders, managers, owners, executives – we need to schedule deliberate time into our days, weeks, and months to review and refresh our long-term strategies and goals, and make sure the day-to-day actions align around those.

Next Steps

So how do we maintain the big-picture perspective and do the predictive modeling that can grow our business and its impact?

  • Schedule time for big-picture thinking and working.
  • Engage with an outside coach and/or consultant to work with you regularly to help you get out of day-to-day long enough to untangle the urgent from the important.
  • Have someone in your organization develop the modeling skills and tools to help predict the overall results of specific actions (or inaction).

Curious about how this might work in your organization? Drop a comment in the form below or drop me a note. I’d be glad to discuss!



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Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew M. Thomas, EPC, is the President of the L M Thomas Group.

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