Myopic Leadership

I like the word “myopia,” especially when analogically used to describe other issues. Being nearsighted and wearing glasses since seventh grade, I get it. I remember the first time I went out to the street with glasses and felt awestruck. I never knew that leaves were so beautiful or that you were supposed to be able to recognize people in the street from quite afar. Myopia means that we focus on what is nearby because the things that are a bit farther seem so dull and out of focus that they don’t matter.

I’ve since learned that all the squinting I used to do in class was a poor man’s substitute to proper glasses and can easily spot people who need glasses and do the same nowadays. Funnily enough, if you are aware of it, you can also spot the squinting that leaders do as they avoid long-term thinking. That’s myopic leadership.

I’ve written in the past about the importance of treating management as a genuine profession, as opposed to something that people naturally get promoted to without any training, mentoring, and learning. The same concept is doubly important when discussing the higher echelons of management, senior leadership. Without taking ownership of your own leadership progression, you will do your organization a disservice.

Downplaying Processes and Planning

Some myopic leaders I’ve worked with really shy away from any kind of work on their planning or processes. It’s as if it makes them feel physically uncomfortable. They think they can keep pushing with however they managed to get by until now, but there comes the point where your skills have to be upgraded. There’s a finite limit to how much harder one can work before you have to learn to work smarter.

I once was helping a first-timer CEO trying to put his startup’s first yearly budget in place. He grabbed one of the engineers and me during lunch and showed us a spreadsheet titled “R&D hiring plan,” where he started listing out how many people would be hired every month. He was playing around with the number to make them work with the money he had, not giving it any actual thought. Forcing him to give this some practical thought—you know, an hour, not two weeks—felt like I was twisting his arm. Only after I spelled out the issues such planning creates, like needlessly growing too fast before product-market fit or managerial overhead, did he acquiesce. Don’t shrug off some thinking. A well-spent hour can save your team months.

Lacking Proactivity

Another example of nearsighted operations is when I notice executives that have entirely accepted their roles as servants of their calendars and those around them. As opposed to having their own agenda and making the time for it, they succumb to everyone else’s wishes and needs, letting go of any long-term work.

If you are not proactive in your day-to-day, you will never be able to start any initiatives, change the direction your company is headed, or invest the time required to maintain an active vision. Whenever a client complains that there’s “nothing they can do” about all of their meetings, I ask what would happen if they were to lose their voice for a week. After a few minutes of thinking, they all come up with some way to free them up from most of their meetings without harming work too much (speaking engagements aside). What’s stopping you from taking the same steps right now? Nothing but your own lack of agency.

In today’s work environment, no one is likely to think about your needs and come up and ask if you’d like to cancel a meeting because you have a big project that’s due. You have to ask for it, get others to help you, and realize how being in charge means that you need to take care of yourself before being able to help others. Being proactive is the only way to achieve personal growth and make time for yourself to think.

Avoiding Risks and Innovation

Myopia also manifests in a pathological aversion to risks. When you only weigh the short-term effects of risks, you will never take ones that might delay your current quarter roadmap but have a huge potential upside for years to come.

As Peter Drucker said, only two things matter in business: marketing and innovation. The rest are the cost of doing business. That means that you have to take risks and enable innovation to become habitual within your organization, or you will have other nimbler companies eat your lunch. Learn how to assess risks in a more objective manner. Without big (calculated) risks, there are no big gains.

Inability to Instill Purpose

Lastly, another example would be how this sort of leadership tends to trickle down the ranks and make everyone less likely to produce remarkable results. When CXOs can’t put any real value on their direct reports’ work and use goals like “quality should be good” or “keep running smoothly,” what surprise is it their team seems to lack motivation and inspiration?

Instilling purpose is something I have all my clients rank themselves on, which I define as their ability to have the team around them realize the impact and results that their efforts are having. It is about translating the vision in your head to something tangible in your team’s minds. Without it, teams lack initiative. With it, you get empowered product teams that are able to act as industry shapers. All the above considered, there’s not much of a choice there, in my opinion.