Byron's Babbles

Leading In Two Time Dimensions

Posted in Leadership, Learning Organization, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 15, 2015

IMG_0640 “A manager must, so to speak, keep his nose to the grindstone while lifting his eyes to the hill – quite an acrobatic feat” (Maciarello, 2014, p. 53) This quote by Peter Drucker in week seven’s lesson (Maciarello, 2014) really hit home to me as a school turnaround leader. Anyone who works with me or has been around me much knows that this leading is two time dimensions: balancing short-term results with long-term results, is one of the toughest parts of the leadership experience. In takeover and turnaround schools they really don’t give you much time to turn it around – and they shouldn’t. Our kids are too valuable. That being said, however, I have always said it is a real balancing act. What we need to do right now to get the transformational results needed short term are not always sustainable for the long term. I really am leading in two different time dimensions. These two time dimensions, short-term and long-term results, need to be used in concert when planning school transformation. Having led a team that took a school off the “F” list in just two years, I can honestly say this harmonization of long and short-term results was one of the pain points that kept me awake at night.

I guess it is why I have become such a student of strategic planning. This two dimensional leadership is really the essence of strategic planning – making resource allocation today that will affect the future (Maciarello, 2014). It requires deliberately allocating resources to projects that are directed toward securing the future of your organization. Yet, in my case, short-term results are necessary to take a school off the “F” list this year. So, short-term results are necessary, and this necessity may require making trade-offs between short-term and long-term results. You can read a couple of my posts on strategic planning by clicking on Strategy in Action and Top 50 Strategy in Action Indicators.

These trade-offs really cause there to be a need for two different missions, but the two missions must be compatible. There are always trade-offs between actions that serve the present and those that further long-term performance. The missions in these two time dimensions may be different but they must be compatible (Maciarello, 2014). A strategic plan and mission statement must reflect results in the short term as well as results in the long term. In my case, as a turnaround school leader, I must fix the problems of the past but the real job is to commit the organization’s resources to opportunities in the future. Sacrificing either dimension threatens the survival of the organization. The old medical proverb applies here, “It doesn’t help you much if the old woman, the sick woman, knows the surgery tomorrow would save her life, if she dies during the night.” But, it doesn’t help you very much either if she survives the night, and the doctor’s are not prepared for her life saving surgery tomorrow. Thus, the struggle of leading in two time dimensions continues.

IMG_0760 “Yesterday’s actions and decisions, no matter how courageous or wise they may have been, inevitably become today’s problems, crises, and stupidities.” ~ Peter Drucker

This quote by Drucker says it all. As leaders it is our job to help our teams commit today’s resources to the future. Two questions that Maciarello (2014, p. 55) posed are very good reflection points for my role as a turnaround leader:

1. Does your organization focus most of its time and effort on problems related to past decisions?
2. How can you free up some of your time and resources to focus on opportunities that serve the future of our unit?

What we do today really matters. We must keep our short-term and long-term strategies in balance. We must fix the problems of the past, but we must also commit the resources, strategically, to the opportunities of the future.

“Never start with tomorrow to reach eternity. Eternity is not being reached by small steps.” ~ John Donne



Maciariello, J. A. (2014). A year with Peter Drucker: 52 weeks of coaching for leadership effectiveness. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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