One of the fundamental leadership tools I employ (The Leadership Circle Profile-360) contrasts the time, energy and focus of attention an executive devotes to creating a new future with reacting to current reality. After all, a leader must be leading somewhere and that means investing resources and attention in that vision.
But it is also clear that the ability to react with swift sure action is critical when the situation calls for it. If you are the SVP Tech Ops for a bank and your servers are down at 8PM- that is the time for a full court press to get back in operation and be able to process transactions. The government response to the recent disaster in Japan is an example of what happens when leadership Is hamstrung in too much consensus.
This article in the New York Times describes the detail of the situation and the history. The net-net is that the institutions that historically would be stepping in to take charge are mired in a culture that requires so much advise-and-consent that it is impotent in the face of a disaster of this size. I am not pointing a finger here. I do not know what organization is prepared for that level of devastation.
Those of us in the leadership development business get enamored sometimes of the focus on a goal or outcome. So many coaching assignments are about helping those with a tendency to micromanage let go of the need to control and direct. The Holy Grail becomes the ability to be that forward thinking leader whose eyes are focused on both the feet of the organization and the path ahead. But as we have seen so often, an asset overused becomes a liability.
The challenge that we see in Japan is a reminder that sometimes, having a clear head and a clear path to action can be every bit as much an asset as having long sight and a systematic approach.