If the company is the bus and its leader is the driver, as Jim Collins’s famous analogy states, then it stands to reason that when the bus is moving, the driver should mostly be looking out the windshield (toward the future) rather than consulting the rear-view mirror.
Yet I still see many CEOs who attempt rear-view leadership. They collect historical business intelligence, sometimes very sophisticated, from across the organization and try to glimpse the road ahead by examining what’s already happened.
Despite these data-interpretation efforts, rear-view leaders are frequently blindsided by new developments from inside their own companies. Sales, marketing, finance, IT, and other departments produce more and more information, but the CEO struggles to separate the signal from the noise. He or she sees plenty of numbers, but what they mean about future performance remains cloudy.
Becoming a full-time Chief Executive Data Analyzer isn’t the solution. Looking to historical information for insight has its place, but those insights are best mined by the functional leaders with the appropriate expertise and perspective—not the CEO. Instead of squinting into the rear-view mirror, the CEO has to look up and ahead.