Investing in the Future Them. Are You Dictating or Leading?

I spend all day every day thinking about and talking about why someone else is uniquely awesome. Getting to explain to someone why they’re uniquely awesome is one of my favorite things to do. 

But before I start down the path of someone’s fabulousness, I ask them where they want to go, who they want to be, and what future they see for themselves. Why? Because context matters. The Fairy Godmother did not dress Cinderella in a pair of fly sneakers and hip athleisure wear. Why? Because Cinderella needed to go to a ball, and not a basketball game.

And yet when I ask this question, it’s rare for me to get an answer. Or at least an answer that can supply enough context to the situation. 

Here’s the thing. If you’re leading a team, or aspire to lead a team, it’s your job to channel your inner Fairy Godmother and help your team get to their “ball.” There’s not a person in your organization who doesn’t want to become something, a Future Them. But in a world ripe with ambiguity, a society that demands perfection, a culture where success is defined by more, thinking about the Future You can be a tad overwhelming.

You can help them in their journey to figure it out. Imagine spent some time supporting your team while navigating this complicated question.

Where do you start? With an adventure. And any adventure starts with a little audit. Have each person take a pen and paper (we’re going old school here) and write down the following headers.

  1. Present You
  2. Confident You
  3. Bigger Than You
  4. Future You
  5. Just For You

Under each of the headings, have them estimate the percentage of their time (day, week, month, year – you choose the time horizon) they’re spending on each category.

What do the categories mean? Let me explain.

Present You:

Time spent on the non-negotiables. The things that are in their day that just are to keep them going. Examples? Eating and sleeping are an essential start to their list. If they’re a parent, I’m guessing there’s another chunk of time they might consider. In their role, what are the parts that need immediate action? Everything? There are no wrong answers here. How much of your team member’s time is reacting to the present?

Confident You:

Time they’re spending experiencing a value return. This one is a little trickier as you both may have included some of this in the “Present You” bucket. But that’s why we’re using pen and paper; we can change the answers. The “Confident You” is time they’re spending doing things where you provide unique value due to their experience and particular skills. We’re not talking about skills that allow the individual to complete a task checking things off the list. We’re talking about activities that are actively tapping into their insights and ideas to solve problems. For example, writing this article is tapping into my “Confident You” bucket. I’m combining my unusual set of skills to share an idea with people. I’m actively providing value and, I hope, will provide outsized value to everyone.

Bigger Than You: 

Time they’re spending that might have an impact on something. “I want to do work that has impact..” is something I regularly hear from people. What that impact is – volunteering, going green, marching for someone else’s rights – is entirely up to the individual. Don’t you want to know where your team member wants to have an impact? The impact that is, quite possibly, beyond just the bottom line? 

Future You: 

Time they’re spending investing in the Future Them. Every meal and workout is a literal investment in the Future You. What about in the workplace? Are they investing time in learning new things, expanding their network, discussing ideas? We all know that if we focus on a future goal, we’ll get there eventually. 

Just For You:

Time they’re spending on themselves. There’s a reason the “cool” tech companies have ping pong tables and hackathons. There’s also a reason why, at this moment in time, people are talking about being “Zoomed out”. No one can be 100% on ALL the time. You also don’t want them to as it’s the quickest path to burn out. So where, in their day, are they getting the moments to just do something for them.

Here are my questions. Were you surprised by the results? If you did the exercise for the individual, would your numbers be the same? Time is a finite resource, shouldn’t you be on the same page?

Last thoughts…

I know when I did this exercise for myself, I put my hand in the air and said “NO” loudly. I didn’t want to face what I saw on the page. But what I know, and you also know, is that denial means that someone else would define the Future Me. Yes, if they don’t choose, someone else will. And that “someone” is probably you. And if you’re choosing for them, then you’re dictating, you’re not leading. So be patient because how you manage about this exercise also defines who do you choose to be.

Remember that I said this was the first step. There are more to come. I also know you’re smart enough to know that a “10 Steps to maximize your time team’s time.” cheat sheet isn’t the solution. 

PS. What’s the interest level of creating a mini-experience around this particular exercise? If we created something for you, would you have your team participate? 

PPS. Yes, this was more “life” navigation than “career” navigation. But here’s the thing, you can also do this exercise with just a career lense. It works the same way. Give it a try.


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