The phrase, ‘forward-focussed leadership’ is, in some ways, an example of tautology – the saying of the same thing twice over using different words (like ‘wet water’).
Leadership is, by definition forward-focussed – it is all about leading people onwards. And yet, maintaining that forward focus is not automatic. Leaders seem to have their focus forever diverted from the potential that lies ahead to the crisis that is staring us in the face.
Of course, leaders need to deal with the here-and-now reality, but if they are to remain effective as leaders, they must ensure that they remain forward- focussed.
As 2 Corinthians 4:18 challenges us:
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”
Forward focus is essential for keeping our sense of mission and focus and for encouraging us when the going gets tough. Leaders are able to describe what the future, God willing, looks like, for the ministry they are leading, the people they are developing and, ultimately, the eternity that awaits them.
Research shows that the ability to focus on the future indicates greater success in life than present (or past) focus:
The Marshmallow Experiment
This was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University.
In these studies, children were offered a marshmallow as a small reward. However, if the children could wait 15 minutes without eating it, they’d be given a second marshmallow, and could eat both. 70% of the children ate the marshmallow right away. Only 30% could wait the full 15 minutes to get the second marshmallow.
This experiment has been repeated in other countries (Brazil and Japan) over the years, and the ratio stays the same: two- thirds can’t wait (ie they are present focussed) , one- third wait (ie are forward focussed).
But here’s the interesting part:
15 years later, the researchers followed-up and found that those children who waited for the second marshmallow achieved higher test results and were higher achievers in whatever field they had chosen (academic, athletic, artistic). They were all-around more successful and happier.
To be forward-focussed is about not just settling for the present offers (or demands), but keeping focussed on the prize that is to come… just like Jesus:
“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
If you were to describe the future in terms of what God is calling you to, how confident would you be? Have you become so bogged down with the demands of the present, or so nostalgic for (or damaged by) the past that you have lost sight of where you are headed?
Kingfisher Family celebrates its 30th birthday
Aspects of maintaining forward focus:
- Clarify the goal. What has God called you to achieve in your leadership role?
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
- Resist the distractions. It’s great to maintain a ‘to do’ list, but even more strategic to maintain a ‘To don’t’ list.
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.”
Lead now with heaven in mind. Your true home is in heaven, where the reward for all those tough leadership stands awaits.
“But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”
Forward focus doesn’t happen by default – it happens by decision, by submission to the lordship of Christ, by relying on his grace.
“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self- control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.”