Are You Thinking Short Term AND Long Term?

As always, I checked the weather before heading out for a run. Sunny, 21 degrees F, and a wind chill of 14. I grabbed gloves, a headband, and my windbreaker. Once outside I wondered if I should head back in for another layer as that wind was brisk! But I told myself, A mile into the run, you’ll be plenty warm. Yes, I shivered for the first five minutes, but by the end I’d taken off the gloves and unzipped the jacket. 

When does your short-term thinking, the equivalent of my first five minutes outside, get in the way of your long-term vision, like my goal of being relatively comfortable for the whole run? Or are you the opposite, concentrating more on an overall vision and neglecting to ensure what happens today, tomorrow, and next week is consistent with the target for next year. This is more than “Begin with the end in mind.” All too often in education, we are focusing on one or the other:

      • • We measure the short-term impact of reading instruction and neglect to measure the long-term goal of creating lifelong readers
        • We rush to implement the latest initiative and fail to plan long-term for sustainability as new teachers join staff, or student demographics change, or targeted funds dry up, or…
        • We increase instructional time by cutting arts or recess or applied arts and then are surprised when students lose the ability to sit still or complain that school is boring
        • We choose our to-do list for the day based on urgency, which is often very different from long-term value

    The figure below offers a summary of equally important considerations when trying to think both short-term and long-term. Yes, we need to solve immediate problems, but are we taking a moment to ensure we aren’t getting out of alignment with long-term goals? And if we have a long-term goal, have we set up easy, along-the-way measurements so we can course-correct and get back into alignment if the original plan isn’t bearing the desired results?

    Can you see how these are interdependent? Many of the leaders I coach respond to the analogy of aligning a car when working with this example of a polarity—interdependent sets of values

    that, over time, need each other. If a car is out of alignment, it’s harder to steer it toward your destination. That’s why we need short-term measures so we can get back into alignment. 

    However, whether or not a car is in alignment is a moot point if you have no idea where you’re going. That’s why having a clear and compelling vision is so important.

    Think about your own style—are you more of a visionary who perhaps leaves the details to others? Or are you great at short-term projects and plans but prefer others set the 5-year vision? BOTH are crucial in an organization or a team. Once you pinpoint your own strengths, find your opposite to partner with. Who might help you get the best of short-term and long-term thinking? Yes, sometimes the short-term situation demands immediate fixing. And, sometimes recharging everyone via an inspiring goal is crucial. But one without the other inevitably leads to a grinding halt in progress until you realign.

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    Jane Kise

    Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.