When feeling threatened by uncertainty, it’s natural for leaders to cling to their tactics and plans. This gives them a sense of control, and wanting to feel a semblance of control while everything is out of control is only natural.
When futurist Cecily Sommers came to Studio/E for a talk about creating strategic foresight around the future, she gave us some of the most valuable advice we’ve heard since the global pandemic started. She said to hold tight to your purpose and play loose with your tactics. None of us know what tomorrow will look like — not even global top futurists like Cecily — so the tactics leaders are apt to rely heavily upon are unlikely to serve them. What we all need to do right now is forget about our plans (or move them to the back of our minds) and remind ourselves instead of our purpose.
Hold Tight to Your Purpose
This means understanding your own role and living into it every single day. If you aren’t sure what we mean when we say purpose, think: why are you here? Why now? What will you do that nobody else will? It might help to think of your purpose as the legacy you intend to leave when you’re gone. To be clear, your life’s purpose is not to extend your product’s reach so that it makes it to all seven continents. That would be how you intend to achieve it. Instead, your purpose could be to spread joy all across the world, or to improve the lives of others by creating more access. When you hold tight to this important desire of yours, you use it as a filter to help you make decisions like where to work, with whom to work — even decisions down to what you say and do daily. Think of it as a navigational tool, guiding you forward as you pursue your truth.
Your purpose statement is unlikely to be the same as that of the organization you work for. However, there should be an overlap, and the organization’s purpose should help you achieve your own.
Play Loose With Your Tactics
At Studio/E, we often talk about being in either the Known or Unknown Zone. In the Known Zone, plans, data, and metrics are very successful, and so is looking to the past to predict what might happen next. In the Unknown Zone — which is nothing if not today’s health crisis and everchanging business landscape — plans, data, and metrics are not going to help you. Instead, the best way to succeed when things are unknown is to learn, experiment, and take small steps. In other words, explore.
When Cecily says hold tight to your purpose and play loose with your tactics, she’s suggesting we throw our plans out the window because they’re not going to help us today. What will help us is to bring our purpose back to front and center to remind us of what our great big visions are.
“The path between our personal purposes and the visions we want to pursue,” Cecily says, “is the path of learning as we go.” And this is what we’re being called to do today, leaders and organizations alike. We must use the process of discovery to teach us where we need to go rather than thinking we have it figured out because our old plans gave us those directions.
If you’re feeling a little lost right now and aren’t sure how to move forward, check-in with yourself. Are you prioritizing your tactics or your purpose? Trust in the process of discovery, because your purpose will serve as the navigational tool to show you what you need to learn.