Now vs Later (or What It Takes to Be An Industry Leader)

I had a mentor who once told me, “The thing about you, Liene, is that you see things about three to five years before other people start to.”

I rolled my eyes at him. I was frustrated because the board of directors I was serving on at the time just flat out didn’t get the urgency of moving on a particular situation. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see what I did. His words didn’t really make me feel better. We didn’t have three years. 

Except that we did. Well, no, actually we didn’t. It is true that we had the time in that we waited the three years to start to even think about taking action. But because of the board's reticence to move on anything, we ended up missing a key opportunity to set the community’s pace and tone of solutions, hurt our position as leaders in the field, and ultimately paid the price of "too little, too late."

The saying, “everyone wants what everyone wants” is generally true and the bills that need to be paid today, this month, this year tend to drive strategies that reflect that adage. The problem with this is that people often don’t know what they want until you show them.

The bigger problem is that if you’re playing where everyone currently is, they (and you) are being led by someone else. This means your long-term strategies are ultimately being driven by someone other than you. 

There is a bit of "both/and" at work here in that the reality is you do have bills that have to be paid both this year and in twenty years. It’s simply not an either/or scenario. If your strategy only reflects the first though, you will ultimately be the one playing catch up. You will be the one experiencing the painful reality of too little, too late.

If you’re a visionary, you’re both a trendspotter and a trendsetter, and you see things before others do. This means doing things that people don’t necessarily understand now, but will later. It means that, for now, others may get louder applause, or more followers, or more features in Vogue than you do. It means you’ll spend money on things with no guarantee that they’ll work. It means you're willing to do things differently than everybody else is now because you want to be the one who is around later.

Being the leader who sets the standard for the rest of the industry can be risky, frustrating, and not always an ego boost. It’s worth it. Don't settle.

Originally published February 2015