One of the most valuable activities I’ve done in recent years has been unannounced market visits. On more than one occasion, our leadership team has visited 20+ restaurants in 48 hours – about a third of the stops were at our restaurants and the balance were visits to our competitors. Never in my 35-year career have I been more grounded in reality.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the first post in this series regarding the most important questions leaders ask. In that initial post, I surfaced THE primary question every leader must ask – and answer: “Where are we going?” Today, another foundational question:

Where are we today?

The importance of knowing your current reality may seem obvious to you. Unfortunately, I see many leaders who are moving into the future like the gentleman in the photo above – blinded and oblivious to their current reality. The tragedy in this… it is virtually impossible to chart the most appropriate course to your preferred future if you don’t know where you’re starting the journey. Knowing where you are today is just as important as clarity regarding your ultimate destination.

Have you ever looked at a map at an airport or shopping mall and been confused regarding which way to turn? I have. Your destination may be crystal clear, but unless you can find a “YOU ARE HERE” icon, the map is not much help. You must understand where you are before you can move confidently towards your destination.

There are many ways to discern reality – surveys, focus groups, current and historical data, one-on-one interviews, and more. However, there’s really no substitute for firsthand observations. That’s why great generals visit the front lines. It’s also why Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic — the medical device company, was in the operating room to observe more than 1000 procedures during his tenure with the company.

This need to be grounded in truth is also why many organizations start their strategic planning process with an Environmental Scan. That’s just a fancy name for a reality check. It’s the compilation of all the data and insight you can reasonably compile to define your current situation (a.k.a. Where are we now?)

When done well, an Environmental Scan not only includes information about your organization, it also includes industry and competitive analysis. You may even look at demographic trends and future projections based on those trends.

Regardless of your approach, leaders must be able to assess your current reality. Then, you can intelligently answer the question we’ll address next week: How will we get there?[GLS_Shield]

How do you stay grounded in reality? 

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.