Home > The Monday Musings Column > we need long term thinking, not short term populism

we need long term thinking, not short term populism

At a seminar last week one of my fellow speakers explained to the audience the true state of our energy production which brought into sharp focus the empty promises that one of our political leaders, and I use that term loosely here, had made a couple of day earlier. Now this is not an attack on any one party, but it is one on the premise that people can really be led by populist talk.

Politics is a short term game, but we as people, as a nation, need long term thinking, as do organisations. One of the problems that impede sensible strategy in the public sector is that it is often constrained by thinking in terms of annual budgets and by the potential for local or central government to change its mind or colour. In the private and third sectors short term thinking is less of an issue, but can sometimes become so for the same reason as politicians face, that of needing to feed shareholder pressure or lose those in control lose their jobs.

The problem with short term thinking is that it usually impacts badly on the long term. Not always, but more often than not. For example you could desire to double your sales income and one way to do that might be to half your prices, but whilst that might work initially, how long could you sustain that for? What is really needed is the longer term approach with a decent strategy aimed at the mid-term. Only at the mid-term?  Yes, because whilst a long term goal is what you need, a long term goal is not a strategy, it’s a destination, not a strategy. Strategies are what you use to get you to that destination.

One of my regular mantras here is that leaders need followers and to get people to follow you they need some form of motivation. Offering them good times for no effort is a populist move, but it assumes one key principle and that is that the followers are gullible enough to believe it. Unfortunately there usually are a good few who will fall for the sunshine promises as we have seen more than once in the political arena, but there is also the issue of people not wanting to hear bad news.

Leadership is about striking a balance so that you can bring people along with you while you build for the future. Outside of politics you can’t lead with false promises; unlike politicians you are accountable for a start and in any case there is no point for you are there to build futures. It is that ability to take organisations forward that will lead us forward out of the dark times of the last 5 years or so.

Just as organisations need to invest in the future so does the nation. I benefit most weeks from the Victorian vision that brought us the railway system that, suitably kept up to date, takes me most of the way to London and back at more than two miles a minute. It’s why I am a supporter of HS2 for future generations and why I am appalled at the lack of strategic planning that goes into much of the way we support the nation’s long term infrastructure.

Short term thinking and decisions only have a place where they support the long term. One of the flaws in democracy is that we built short term planning into our governance, but at least we have the freedom in commerce to be able to do the right thing. Lead well and prosper!

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