How your focus on the future can help deliver real-time results

Leaders in competitive industries around the globe are under pressure to deliver more than ever before. It’s an expectation that often comes without optimal levels of resources. This is a reality that calls for a very deliberate shift in mindset when taking on major challenges. If you can effectively create an empowering context for your team as you take on seemingly impossible objectives, you can position your organization to deliver far above and beyond past performance.

With all the demands you face, making the effort to create a new lens or context may strike you as daunting and time-consuming. Yet when this work is broken down into the following steps, it’s manageable. And as you master these steps, you’ll find that you and your team can make unprecedented progress—even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Talk about what matters and create a future-focused context

A good way to start is by talking with people about what’s important to them, and why. The idea here is that you can begin to get people connected to something bigger than themselves.

Let’s say I’m on staff at a construction firm, and you’re my boss. It would be one thing to announce to my team that we have a tough deadline to complete the foundational work on a capital project for a new city center complex. Moreover, the site’s soil is shifting, the timeline is tight, and we’re under great pressure to get it done right—meeting all quality and environmental standards, deadlines, and budget constraints. My predictable reaction to that approach? I’ll feel some stress and do my best to deliver, but I may also resent the undue pressure on my colleagues and me. And I’ll have no connection to the work beyond that.

But what if you pulled together your team and said something like; “We have a challenge to help the city conquer.” You could have a conversation together about what was compelling or exciting about the project for people, both individually and collectively. As a result, you would be in a position to frame the work in a way that really matters to everyone involved. Instead of straining to meet yet another deadline, the team might decide they are going to step up in a big way to generate new and innovative solutions—solutions that will not only employ more people in the community but also ensure the economic viability and success of the city for decades to come.

Resist resistance: Keep people’s eyes on the impact of your efforts

Once your team has established a connection to what they want to accomplish, it’s time to set the schedule and targets and press forward. The early days of such efforts typically go rather well because there’s been a recent shift in people’s lens on the work—from something that’s being imposed upon them to something they’re inspired to make happen. The notion of being able to deliver something that hasn’t been done before tends to be very motivating for most of us…at least at first. It can get tricky when it becomes clear to people that striving for new levels of performance requires relentless effort, often with no immediate gratification in sight. This is when resistance can surface and threaten to stymie your initial progress.

My colleagues and I worked with an oil and gas company striving to deliver a liquid natural gas (LNG) project on a faster timetable than anyone in the region had ever achieved, while at the same time addressing high-profile environmental concerns and strict regulatory standards. The teams involved had coalesced around the ambition of meeting all demands so that they could (1) help ensure the environmental and economic health of the region, and (2) set a new standard for the industry. When the going got tough and voices of resistance surfaced, the venture’s leadership team consistently returned people’s focus to the “why” behind what they were doing.

The leadership team also took care to build opportunities for short-term wins into the timetable. This helped to keep teams highly focused as they generated meaningful real-time results. When people involved in a project have that sense of everyone pulling together and making a difference, it can perpetuate the kind of confidence and resolve that will prevail over any resistance.

Allow obstacles to fuel breakthroughs

We all know that obstacles are inevitable when we set out to achieve difficult things. When you endeavor to make something big happen, the issues that arise can loom large as well. But what if we saw this as good news rather than a problem? Nothing gets people’s attention like an unexpected impediment, whether it’s a sudden supply shortage, community opposition, or a technology malfunction. Remember: You’re not on a well-traveled path that’s been cleared; you’re charting your own course and clearing the way at every step.

I advise people that when a problem comes up, rather than approaching it with the view that something is wrong, you can see it as an opportunity for success. If you think about it, when you face an obstacle, you’re being shown exactly where your attention needs to directed.

Let’s say you’re leading an infrastructure project and there’s upheaval in the community about disruptions to their neighborhoods. That’s an opportunity to meet with community organizers, learn about their concerns, and see if you can find a way forward. If the concern is about how hours of operation impact school bus routes, maybe there are adjustments you could make that demonstrate your support of the community and willingness to listen. If the concern is about environmental testing, you can sit down and talk about it, and perhaps use the discussion to educate people and build trust. If there’s internal strife about scheduling or one team is claiming that the other one isn’t delivering: Get yourself in the middle of it and talk it through.

While avoidance may seem attractive as a “path of least resistance,” it almost certainly gets you on a path to derailment. On the other hand, there can be unanticipated positive results when you truly listen to people’s concerns and find strong solutions. Individuals and teams who are seemingly at odds can become unexpected allies. Time and energy that were being spent on smaller details get redirected to the big picture and the ultimate prize. When you can turn a concern into a commitment, your teams gain more momentum, your people become more confident, and your collective efforts can begin to feel unstoppable.

While major projects can come with significant worries, with a new lens on your work, you can lead your team to dramatically higher levels of performance and success. It’s about re-framing your challenges in the context of the future while defying resistance and embracing obstacles as opportunities. With everyone’s eyes on the future and how they can help shape it, your organization can accomplish amazing things in the present.