Foresight in Leadership
“Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimising surprise”
For years, we’ve talked about great leaders having a clear, positive, compelling vision of their team or organisation’s future. A good analogy for a vision is building a Lego model. Before you even begin to organise and assemble the small plastic pieces that are inside the box, you’ll see, very clearly, the final outcome displayed on the external part of the packaging, indeed the more complex models come with a fully illustrated assembly booklet. That’s your vision; the outcome that you’re striving to create.
Unfortunately, having a positive vision isn’t enough. You need to possess foresight to help you know what actions you need to take and the possible impact that your actions have in making your vision a reality. In very simple terms foresight is knowledge or insight gained by looking forward.
I’ll give you an example to help expand on the difference between vision and foresight.
I work with a chief executive who has a powerful, positive vision of a workforce that’s motivated to help him to accomplish the organisation’s goals. Here’s his challenge: He doesn’t have the foresight to see that when he makes a decision to not communicate important information to his employees, he generates a lack of engagement and motivation on their part. Vision is important, but foresight is absolutely critical in making the right daily decisions to turn your vision into your reality.
The following areas will assist you in turning your vision into reality:
Be crystal clear on your vision: Without a clear vision, foresight will improve your decision making but the decisions may not be in aligned to achieving your vision.
Ask good questions and listen actively: If you ask the right questions to the right people, you will usually be able to improve your foresight thus allowing you to assess the (potential) future impact of your decisions.
Develop detailed knowledge of (your) people: Most people say the world is changing faster today than it ever has before. That’s true, but people are still people. However, if you are receptive, observant and understand people and their different reactions to decisions and change, you’ll gain greater foresight into the impact of your decisions.
Develop multiple scenarios or options: Too many people try to make decisions and events an “either/or” scenario. Either we are having what I want for dinner or we’re having your favourite meal. Either/or tends to leave people with only two decisions, and there is usually a winner and a loser. Avoid binary decisions; develop multiple scenarios. Maybe we could meet in the middle and support each other. Maybe we could have my choice of many course and your pudding. Or, we could go out for dinner and make our own choices.
Embrace technology: How will new technology impact you or your customer’s business in the next year? We tend to reject what we don’t know or don’t understand. People who have foresight tend to embrace technology, whether or not they understand it – embracing technology and innovation will also allow you to remain competitive. When you reject technology and new ideas, you can quickly become obsolete because by the time you finally catch up with everyone else, your customers may have moved on.
Hire people who think differently: Avoid the temptation of interviewing and hiring people who are most clearly aligned to your way of thinking, the people who will most readily fit into the organisation’s culture and ways of thinking. If you want to improve your foresight, you’ll benefit from hiring people who see and think differently than you do. Over time, a diverse team that can figure out how to work with each other, share unique information and play off each other’s strengths will, as a team, develop a sharper sense of what’s to come in the future.
Learn from adversity: Adversity will come your way whether you are ready or not. Being ready to learn the lessons of both success and failure will help you hone your foresight. Adversity can bring pain and discomfort, but if we plan for it and make decisions accordingly, it can turn our vision into a reality and bring us profit. Take the time to discuss and ‘exercise’ adverse conditions with your team. You may already possess the answers to the adverse conditions that lie ahead, but tease them out before it happens.
Be a learner: Review your decisions and assess whether your decisions genuinely took you closer to your vision. Determine what can be learned from your decisions and actions, and what you can change and do differently to improve your future decision-making and foresight. A clear, positive vision is important, but you’ll need to know how to develop foresight to make great decisions that will, in turn, make your vision a reality.
“What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient, but restless mind, of sacrificing one’s ease or vanity, of uniting a love of detail to foresight and of passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully”