How to Build the Future by Asking Four Forward-Facing Questions
Frustration with teams and organizations is the result of avoiding questions that many leaders don’t dare to ask.
Successful leaders ask forward-facing questions that define a future distinct from the past.
4 backward-facing questions:
- What’s broken?
- What needs fixed?
- What problems can we solve?
- What’s wrong?
Solving problems is a futile attempt to build the future by fixing something that already happened.
The future languishes while our talent focuses on the past. Most leaders wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t fixing broken systems, solving people problems, or strengthening weak team members.
4 forward-facing questions:
A satisfying future begins with courageous curiosity.
#1. What future do we imagine for ourselves?
A fuzzy view of the future protects us from taking responsibility to create it.
Leaders often go blank when asked to describe the organization or team they aspire to create. It’s interesting that we can be frantically busy, yet have no idea what we are working to build.
What does success look like in terms of relationships, fulfillment, and value?
#2. How will we bring our imagined future into reality – in imperfect ways – now?
The future is always created now. But the future fades when talent is focused on solving problems.
The future is created by applying talents to aspiration. Move from problem to possibility.
#3. Who do we aspire to become together?
People who think of themselves as tools scramble to explain a way of being together. They wonder if it even matters.
The most important thing about us is the way we treat each other while we work.
#4. How might we take responsibility to leverage our talent in service to our shared vision?
Fear based accountability – rooted in the power to punish – serves to drain initiative and degrade relationships.
What is so captivating or comfortable about turning to the past?
What courageous forward-facing questions might leaders begin asking their teams?
I really enjoyed this post, especially the idea that if we don’t define the future we want (e.g. the destination), how do we ever expect to achieve our greatest success? With great talent, work and effort, a certain level of success will be achieved. But imagine what level of success could be achieved if we actually have a vision to pursue.
As we used to say in East Tennessee, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally!”
Have a great weekend!
Thank you Jay. Your comment suggests that our problem may not be about talent or hard work. Our problem is we aren’t sure where we are going.
I suppose the other thing is having an idea of why we want to go there in the first place.
You are absolutely right that the “why” is hugely important. It is a key for sustainable engagement within the organization.
https://www.startwithwhy.com/ When we know why we are doing something, what our end goals are, it is much easier for people to become engaged and empowered to create the desired future.
I enjoyed this article. Makes me think about the difference between putting out fires and not allowing the fire to start in the first place. Another important forward facing question could be, Can the team align around the vision and agree that no one person or agenda is bigger than the group’s defined goal? It’s important for the team to actually perform like a team.
Very thought provoking article.Enjoyed grasping it.Thanks for sharing.v
What strikes my eye with these question sets is that the questions probing the past are very straightforward and the ones describing the future are very, very open and shady to begin with. I just came across two questions which actually condense the future set in very deep detail. The questions are meant for personal growth and challenges, but work in a team environment exceedingly well, too.
The questions are simply:
1) What do we want to achieve?
2) How do we get that done?
These two questions resonate deeply in many areas. I’m just watching “Chef’s Table”-series and everyone of the top chef’s in the show actually go through these questions when they reflect their career and their current daily creativity.
Thanks for rattling the mind, once again!
“What is so captivating or comfortable about turning to the past?”
Frankly, not a fat lot most of the time. However, in industries where much of your effort is spent on not repeating past mistakes (and having to put systems in place to prove you haven’t repeat them!) and on responding to the latest regulatory audit regarding something that did happen, turning to the past is a painful necessity.
Sadly, you can never eliminate the need to look backwards and fix things, so it inevitably erodes the time and effort you have to move forward. The art is in maximising the forward-looking.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this article! It’s amazing how much time can be spent looking backwards and looking for someone to blame. There is value in doing a root cause analysis when something goes wrong, but then we must move on. Thank you for these insights!