Strategic Leaders Look Farther Ahead


It is a leader's responsibility to look ahead, sense impending change, and make the course adjustments necessary to keep an organization on track.

America seems to be waking up to its weight problem. Popular reality television shows Biggest Loser and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution inspire viewers to shed pounds, or better yet, to avoid putting them on in the first place. Bestselling books, Eat This, Not That! and Cook This, Not That! teach readers how to order and prepare healthier foods. Health-conscious supermarket chains Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Trader Joe's cater to shoppers concerned about nutrition.

With Americans aspiring to better diets, you might expect PepsiCo, known for its sugary drinks and salty snacks, to be in a perilous position. Yet, thanks to the strategic leadership CEO Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo was able to anticipate the trend toward healthier diets and adjust its course. Today, PepsiCo enjoys a diverse line of products and has the agility to feature nutritious brands.

Take a Long Range View of the Future

When driving a car, you don't fix your vision only a few feet beyond the front bumper. Instead, you peer into the distance so that you can anticipate curves in the road, locate upcoming turns, and steer clear of any potholes or debris on the roadway. Looking farther ahead gives you the reaction time needed to pilot the car safely to your destination.

As CEO of a corporation whose financial size exceeds that of many countries, Nooyi has tremendous responsibility to steer PepsiCo in the right direction. She must look years ahead, not only to ensure the future profitability of PepsiCo, but also to ever-enhance its influence as a global citizen. To lead well, Nooyi makes a practice of projecting herself into the future. Doing so allows her to identify market trends in advance and gives her time to position PepsiCo to capitalize on them.

As early as the mid-1990s, while serving as chief strategist of PepsiCo, Nooyi saw consumers turning to more nutritious products. In response, she spearheaded the acquisition of Quaker Oats Co., giving Pepsi a heavyweight sports drink (Gatorade) and recognizable health foods like Quaker oatmeal. Later, she purchased Tropicana so that Pepsi could add a prominent fruit juice to its lineup. Meanwhile, she convinced executives at Pepsi to abandon their foray into fast food by selling Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. As a result of Nooyi's efforts, by 2006 only 20% of Pepsi's sales came from soft drinks compared to 80% for rival Coca-Cola.


As a leader, you're responsible to look ahead, sense impending change, and make the course adjustments necessary to keep your organization on track. Remember: you cannot see the future with your nose to the grindstone. To lead strategically, it's essential to withdraw from the urgency of day-to-day business in order to plan the direction of your organization's future.

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