Leaders and Lag Time

Effective leaders seem to have a knack for being a couple steps ahead of things.
They spend a significant amount of their time and energy in the future, anticipating and preparing for opportunities and challenges that others haven’t yet imagined. With an almost prophetic sense of what is to come, leaders are quietly working behind the scenes on strategies and decisions long before they come to light for the rest of their organization. And they’re always well underway on the next one by the time this one is announced.
It can look a little like this… ┬áThis is an important quality and one that is important for any organization that aspires to growth in scale, significance, or impact. Or really, for any organization that aspires to anything more than a decline to irrelevance and closing the doors. But it can also cause dangerous tension among people who aren’t always attuned to the future thinking of the leader (or leaders, team is a great benefit to future thinking).
The problem arises when leaders forget that they are working ahead.
They have spent their time wrestling through the options, implications, and emotions of a matter to their satisfaction before the rest of the team may have even been aware that it was a possibility.
Too often, leaders don’t allow or expect others to need the same process of time and consideration to become comfortable with a new strategy or situation. They forget that they live in the future and others remain in the present. Add in a measure of abrasiveness or insecurity and you soon find a frustrated leader wishing the others weren’t stuck in the past.
That is almost always accompanied by a demotivated team who feel excluded, disempowered, and taken for granted.
While both perceptions may have some element of truth, the driving issue is probably a leader who has simply forgotten about the leadership time lag and the need for everyone to have a chance to process what is happening for themselves.
So how do we fix it?
Awareness is essential. Leaders have to understand that those not aware of the early stages of consideration haven’t had a chance to reach and support a shared conclusion. With that awareness leaders can plan change processes that factor in time for people to understand, explore, and prepare for the impact of what is coming. They may even involve more people early in the process. Beyond that, organizations with open communication create the possibility of either leaders or followers talking about the impact of the time lag; asking the others to adapt to the pace of change they need, and addressing the differences without them becoming a further drag on momentum or morale.
When has the leadership time lag been a problem for you? How have you seen it handled well?