A Good Leader Is Always Two Steps Ahead

December 1, 2022

holding a lit lightbulb

Overview: Good leaders are always a few steps ahead of their followers. Being ahead is the job of a leader, but those with visionary inclinations may strike out too far and draw resentment, abuse, and ridicule. Leadership coaching can help leaders develop the maturity and sense to pace their visionary tendencies optimally.

In 1615, the Roman Inquisition investigated Galileo Galilei’s theory of heliocentrism, which says the Earth revolves around the sun. They came to the conclusion that it was heretical; it posed a threat to the position of the Catholic Church and was, therefore, dangerous.

Galileo ended up under house arrest for the rest of his life. Although correct, his ideas were more than a handful of steps ahead of their time. Galileo was a thought leader who ventured way too far ahead for his own good, and he paid the price for his intellectual temerity.

While nowadays being burnt at the stake or kept under house arrest are no longer risks for progressive thinkers, in most civilized countries, things like ridicule, threats, and public humiliation remain real possibilities.

Leadership coaching understands the risks and rewards of visionary leadership. An executive coaching professional can help leaders find the right tone of communication that allows them to translate their visionary ideas to inspire and motivate others.

Leaders Must Be At Least One Step Ahead

Leaders understand they must have an edge over others to retain their positions. Low-level managers are generally one step ahead of “the game.” They focus on tweaking processes and attitudes to elicit incremental change and improvement.

Although being one step ahead is better than being behind, from the perspective of leadership coaching, this position is not desirable. Leaders stuck in this mentality miss opportunities and may voluntarily sacrifice advantages on the altar of playing it safe. Incremental change is a cautious approach to change. It does not make it possible for leaders to have broad impacts on organizations and employees.

The one-step-ahead mentality hides another problem. Such leaders often view their promotions into management roles as achieving career goals. From the perspective of executive coaching, such attitudes are counterproductive. Leaders that are open to change and improvement should view their promotions as opportunities to have deep and far-reaching impacts on their organizations and the people under their management.

Being one step ahead of the game may be a necessary leadership ability, but it’s far from sufficient.

Intelligent Leaders Are Two Steps Ahead

Executive coaching sees these leaders as facilitators of meaningful change that may lead to evolution.

Leaders in this category can look and reach past incremental improvements. They test the limits of their comfort zones and exceed them if they sense rewards.  Despite their temerity, such leaders are cautious enough to limit their explorations to realms within earshot of current practices.

Two-step-ahead leaders can be effective innovators. It’s easier to sell relatable future propositions to people than distant ones. While such leaders find it easier to defeat resistance to change, they must also work more on implementing it than one-step-ahead managers on their tweaks.

The risk two-step-ahead leaders assume is their innovations won’t give them an edge for long. Staying ahead of the game at this level is difficult as competitors find it relatively easy to catch up.

Visionaries Are Three Steps Ahead

Visionary leaders are so far ahead of their times they propose nothing less than to change the rules of the game. Being a visionary is risky; the plans and visions such leaders try to sell to followers can draw resistance and sometimes abuse.

Looking out at a city.
Visionary thoughts face considerable resistance.

Visionary leaders must be mature enough to handle rejection and treat it as constructive criticism. Leadership coaching can help visionary leaders develop the maturity that allows them to thrive and distinguish themselves from dreamers.

Leaders with well-rounded sets of leadership skills can undertake efforts and activities belonging to all three categories. They can pace their commitments to these activities, ensuring they don’t grow overly reliant on either while exploring all potential opportunities and avenues of growth.

Contact us to learn more about how you can join the IL Movement as a coach or how you can benefit from partnering with us to bring IL Solutions to you and your organization.

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