Are You the Kid...or the the Boxed Cereal Aisle?

If your young daughter is screaming in the boxed cereal aisle, maybe you can defer the whining until you get to the checkout line in 11 minutes, but good luck with a threat about what they get to do this weekend, or whether you’ll fund their college education. The bribes have to be immediate and meaningful. “You can pick out a piece of candy when we check out, Suzie.”

When you have a child who is behaving badly in the present, sometimes you can induce them to change that behavior in exchange for something in the future. But the younger the child, the more immediate that future has to be.

One unique element of how you must think in running the firm is this: you can’t afford to make short-term decisions that will have bad long-term implications. You have to constantly be thinking of the future. You can’t:

  • Overpay this employee to get them off your back if doing so will set a bad precedent.
  • Lower the proposal to match the client’s budget because you know they’ll keep screwing you in the future.
  • Get sucked into a client problem every day because your account team is weak…and still expect to keep the new business flywheel turning.

Your decisions in the bigger scheme of things need to consistently answer these five questions in the right way:

  1. How will this impact our firm’s long-term performance.
  2. How will this facilitate a repeatable, efficient new business strategy.
  3. How should I be spending my time running this firm so that we’re always inching in the right direction.
  4. How do I build the right team to deliver the promises we are making.
  5. How do I land this plane at some point.

Your people will give you some ideas on this from time to time, but these are the five questions that define your leadership role. How are you doing? What grade would you give yourself?

If you don’t mind me answering that question for you, I’d say this:

  • I’m surprised at how you get sucked into the day to day and keep accepting your reality as if it can’t change.
  • I’m surprised at some of the decisions that you make, especially since I know how smart you are and how you know, deep inside, that it’s a bad decision.

I just bought a copy of a book on mental models because I’m on this quest to figure out why you–and I–make some of the decisions that we do. Sometimes it seems like we’re the kid in the cereal aisle and not the adult in the room.

Humans are unique in that they plan for the future. Leaders are unique in that they do that planning more than other humans do, and that they consider the longer-term picture more adequately.

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