Taking the Long Term Perspective

Posted 04.23.2010

Longview2 I read a couple of articles yesterday that provided clear explanations of some complex topics – the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charge against Goldman Sachs and the Obama administration’s efforts on nuclear non-proliferation. Before you click away from this post, hang in there with me because there’s a quick leadership point the long term perspective that I want to make.

But first, here’s the set-up.

The article on the SEC/Goldman case was John Gapper’s column in the Financial Times titled, “Greed is not good for Goldman,”  If you want a clear picture of a complicated deal, read Gapper’s column.  He does a great job of explaining it. Here’s the passage that first caught my attention:

There are various ways to describe the synthetic collateralised debt obligation that Goldman Sachs constructed for John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who bet on the collapse of the mortgage bubble.

Goldman itself terms it "nothing unusual or remarkable". The US Securities and Exchange Commission describes the Abacus deal that closed in April 2007 as securities fraud. I call it short-term greedy.

Goldman rose to its dominant position on Wall Street through the dictum of Gus Levy, its former senior partner, that it should be "long-term greedy". He meant that it should forgo quick gains for enduring profits.

The second article that caught my attention was Hendrik Hertzberg’s comment in The New Yorker titled, “Eight Days in April.”  In the piece, Hertzberg reviews a new Defense Department policy that reduces the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy, the April 8 signing of a new US/Russia nuclear agreement and the 47 nation nuclear security summit that Obama hosted earlier this month.  He then ties these efforts to how the administration has handled Iran’s suspected move to develop nuclear weapons:

If Iran is to be pressured in any meaningful way, America cannot do it alone. Those months of engagement—and of nuclear peacemaking—may have done little to affect the mullahs’ behavior, but they have been an absolute prerequisite to winning any real cooperation on sanctions from Iran’s non-trivial trading partners in Europe, Russia, and China.

The common leadership point that I think both articles remind us of is that long term perspective and strategy matter. In a 24/7 news cycle, make profits now, get results yesterday environment, that’s pretty hard to do. There’s a lot of pressure to satisfy people in the short run. It’s easy for leaders to get sucked into that. The Gapper and Hertzberg articles offer a reminder that it’s a good idea for leaders to be very clear about their answer to the question, “What are we really trying to accomplish over the long run?”  Two good follow up questions to answer after that first one are, “If we work back from that long term goal, what do we have to do to get there?” and “How do we need to behave along the way to accomplish that long term goal?”

What about you?  What gets in the way of taking the long term perspective?  What do you do to keep yourself and your team focused on what matters most in the long run?