People First Leadership: Remembering Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

photography of airplane during sunrise

Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

This past week, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.

Kelleher left quite an impression on both the airline industry and on those who worked with him. One of Southwest Airline’s achievements has been 46 years of consecutive profitability due to its approach to steady and responsible growth on behalf of its employees and customers.

The drive for Kelleher and Southwest was not merely financial. It was about people. The airline is known for its commitment to affordable travel for its customers, friendly customer service, and employee-centered servant leadership practices.

Kelleher’s business vision for the company evidenced his deep commitment to caring for employees. When asked on one occasion what Kelleher’s vision was for the company over the next ten years, he replied, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” Through the time of Kelleher’s passing, Southwest Airlines has never been in bankruptcy or had a layoff of employees—an amazing claim for the turbulent airline industry.

In a statement posted on Southwest’s website regarding Kelleher’s passing, current Chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, noted the following about Kelleher’s people-first approach to life and business:

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Kelleher provided a model of servant leadership and valuing people. Mark Strauss and I included a bit about Kelleher’s leadership in our upcoming book. Here’s a look at some of this reflection:

“Although most business executives see the general value of their employees, not all executives prioritize people as individuals. Herb Kelleher sought to do to this at Southwest for people at every level of the organization—whether fellow executives or those in line jobs as baggage handlers and mechanics.

At one of the company’s famous spirit parties, surrounded by hundreds of people circling Herb for attention, [Colleen] Barrett tells the story of Herb intently talking with a Southwest mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—a long conversation by CEO standards. Barrett writes:

‘Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear … that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him.’”

As you think through your own leadership, what cues might you take from Herb Kelleher? Share your thoughts below.

Leadership … What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Love, Midtown, New York City, NY_Thomas R. Stegelmann

Photo Credit: Love, Midtown, New York City, NY, by Thomas R. Stegelmann, Flickr

In 1984, when I was launching into my pre-teen years, Tina Turner released her classic song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”

I’m sure just about anyone growing up in the 80’s can hear the chorus in their head right now…

 

 

Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken.”

In some circles, this philosophy likely governs the work of leadership as well—keep love and emotion out of it.

Leadership … What’s Love Got to Do with It?

While Turner’s song was both fun and popular, I’d argue that it’s really bad leadership advice. Those engaged in the study and practice of leadership may not immediately think of love when they think of leadership,  but I’d argue that the best leaders know how to love well in their leadership work.

Hired Hearts

Providing helpful perspective on the relationship between leadership and love, Bruce Winston argues that leaders need to see followers as hired hearts instead of hired hands. As hired hearts, followers, just like leaders, are whole individuals that are motivated by authentic consideration and care.

On this point, Kathleen Patterson argues that in contrast to fear-based approaches to leadership, love in leadership creates an atmosphere where respect, trust, and dignity are fostered.

A Range of Loves

Now when we speak of love for followers, this love, of course, needs to be distinguished from the classic form of love we consider on Valentine’s Day. For instance, when I say “I love you,” this means different things depending on the one to whom I speak it. The love I have for my wife is different that the love I have for my children. Similarly, love for friends, extended family members, neighbors, and coworkers is also different. Love is different in each of these relational contexts, but is nevertheless important and meaningful.

One of my favorite authors from the 20th century is C.S. Lewis. In his book The Four Loves, Lewis engages such distinctions in love by contrasting four Greek words for love: storgē (family bond love), philía (friendship bond love), erōs (erotic bond love), and agápē (unconditional bond love). While love for one’s spouse should encompasses all four of these loves in its highest form, love for friends and coworkers is more limited, though still rightly called love.

Agape Love & Leadership

For leaders, perhaps the most helpful of Lewis’ four loves is the agape form of love. Speaking of such love around the term agapao love, Bruce Winston notes that agapáo love means to love in a social or moral sense and that “this Greek word refers to a moral love, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.”

That’s a helpful way to understand leader love. Doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Servant leadership commitments clarify this a step further by asking whether leaders are considering the needs of followers and empowering them in their work of serving the needs of others.

This is why Kathleen Patterson believes that servant leadership is based on love at its core and that “true leadership is based on love.” With a primary commitment to followers, servant leaders drive their organizations’ missions forward toward success as they commit first to caring for (loving) their followers.

Loving Us along the Way

One of my colleagues, Mark McCloskey, argues that followers bring three core questions to their leaders. These questions often are not verbalized, but the degree to which followers have answers to these questions drives commitment and performance.

  1. Do you know where you’re going?
  2. Can you get us there?
  3. Will you love us along the way?

Clear vision and leadership capacity are at the core of the first two questions. The third question speaks more to the character and values guiding the leader. Followers want to know that not only will things get done, but that they will also experience loving leadership along the way.

What’s Love Got to Do with It? – Everything!

So, back to our question: What’s Love Got to Do with Leadership? When leadership is done well, I argue that love is at the core of that leadership practice. It is done with the good of followers in mind (doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons), and it’s done in the right manner (loving people along the way).

Leader Love and You

Whether leadership love is a foreign concept or an intuitive practice for you, I encourage you to take some time this week to think through how love is shaping your leadership practice. How are you engaging your followers with consideration and care? How are you serving your followers as they aim to serve others? How are you caring for and loving your followers along the way in carrying out your organization’s mission?

#7 … Top Posts from 2015 — 37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #7 post from 2015 was …

37 Barriers to Change

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not. As a normal part of life in organizations, leaders must understand well but common barriers to change and how to effectively negotiate these barriers.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations.

Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Facing Barriers to Change

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

In this top post from 2015, I present 37 barriers to change that leaders regularly face. Take some time to familiarize yourself with these key barriers.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #7 post from 2015:

37 Barriers to Change

Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

Leading Emotional Culture in Organizations

Emotion_Joe-Shlabotnik

Photo Credit: Emotion, by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series engaging the importance of organizational culture.

I began by engaging Why Organizational Culture Matters (“Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”). In that post, I engaged the questions…

  • What Is Organizational Culture? And,
  • Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Based on answers to these questions I concluded that leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture in their leadership work.

Next, I presented a case for Engaging the Emotional Side of Organizational Culture, and discussed the following:

  • Why emotional culture matters for organizations, and
  • What leaders can do to positive create and shape a healthy emotional culture.

At the end of that post I noted recommendations from Barsade and O’Neill — three key steps in this process:

  1. “Harness what people already feel”
  2. “Model the emotions you want to cultivate”
  3. “Get people to fake it till they feel it”

At this point I want to take some time to provide additional reflections around these points and encourage you regarding how you can positively shape the emotional culture of your team or organization.

Here are reflections on each of these steps.

What Can Leaders Do about It?

“Harness What People Already Feel”

Because organizational members are already experiencing and exhibiting, this also means that many are likely already exhibiting the desired emotional culture. The key from a leadership and managerial perspective is to “catch” these individuals doing the right thing.

On this point, Ken Blanchard argues that one of the most effective managerial practices is to focus on what employees are doing well—catching them doing the right thing. This practice can be applied to nurturing healthy emotional culture.  One example from the Barsade and O’Neill article was a “kudos board” used in an ICU hospital unit. It was board used to celebrate how the hospital staff embodied the desired emotional culture in their unit and organization.

“Model the Emotions You Want to Cultivate”

In addition to harnessing what people already feel, leaders and managers modeling the emotions they want to cultivate is also vital. Barsade and O’Neill provide the following managerial example:

If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it.”

“Get People to Fake It Till They Feel It”

Authenticity is important. But it is important to not only express present feelings, but to nurture other positive and healthy feelings that are productive for employees, customers, organizational constituents, and the organization as a whole. I see the authentic way of talking about this is around the language of aspirational emotional culture.

It is okay to recognize the gap between where individuals are presently and intentionally or strategically working toward the aspirational reality. Both spontaneous and strategic emotional expression is meaningful and valuable.

In many ways, this is what emotional intelligence is all about—the appraisal and expression of emotion. Emotional intelligence begins with recognizing what is happening at the emotional level in ourselves and others, and then responding to and out of these emotions in ways that are healthy and productive.

Social psychologists support the idea that conformity to group emotional expression norms is a common reality in life. Such conformity to emotional norms benefits both the individual and the organization. Based on these realities, Barsade and Olivia O’Neill recommend approaching emotional expression through what they call deep acting. In contrast to surface acting, deep acting may be used in developing long-term solutions: “with this technique, people make a focused effort to feel a certain way, and then suddenly they do.”

Emotional Cultures Do Not Improve
without Focus at All Levels

The above strategies are practical recommendations for how to proactively create and shape a healthy organizational culture in your organization, division, or team. Consistent with the above, it is important to emphasize that no organizational level is exempt from this work—especially top level management and leadership.

On this point, Barsade and O’Neill note:

Just like other aspects of organizational culture, emotional culture should be supported at all levels of the organization. The role of top management is to drive it. …it’s up to senior leaders to establish which emotions will help the organization thrive, model those emotions, and reward others for doing the same.”

Healthy Emotional Culture and You

As with most leadership endeavors, the best place to start is looking in the mirror and seeing what positive steps you can take to influence others around you. Here are a few questions to trigger your thoughts on this topic:

  • As you consider the insights on nurturing a healthy emotional culture in your organization, what can you do in the coming days, weeks, and months to make progress on your organization’s emotional culture?
  • Are there emotions you can express even tomorrow (e.g., nurturing joy through regular smiles)?
  • Are there systems you can set up that provide opportunity for individuals and organizations to better pay attention to the emotional climate and culture in your organization?

For some, this work will be natural and easy. For others, this will be hard work. In either case, healthy organizational culture includes healthy emotional culture. Take time to prioritize the emotional health of your organization’s culture in the coming days.

Engaging the Emotional Side of Organization Culture

_Emotions 02_SeRGioSVoX.jpg

Photo Credit: _Emotions 02, by SeRGioSVox, Flickr

In a recent post I discussed the following theme: Why Organizational Culture Matters. In that post, I engaged the questions…

  • What Is Organizational Culture? And,
  • Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Based on answers to these questions I concluded that leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture in their leadership work.

The Emotional Side of Organizational Culture

Providing an expanded and clarifying conversation on organizational culture, Barsade and O’Neill argue that while emotions are a vital part of the organizational culture this dimension that is often overlooked.

In their HBR article on the topic, they note that, “most leaders focus on how employees think and behave—but feelings matter just as much.”

Barsade and O’Neill provide additional clarity on this point:

 “Cognitive culture is undeniably important to an organization’s success. But it’s only part of the story. The other critical part is what we call the group’s emotional culture: the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.”

Why Is Attention to Emotional Culture Important?

In their article, they note that attending to the emotional culture of an organization involves looking at what motivates employees and learning that which makes organizational members feel excited about their work and feel that the belong to the organization and its mission.

For better or worse, emotions play an important part in the overall organizational culture.  The article highlights that positive emotional culture is not just a good idea, but that emotions impact important employee metrics such as retention, work quality, and employee commitment. In short, “you can see the effects [of emotions] on the bottom line.”

What Can Leaders Do about It?

If emotional culture is important, what can leaders and managers do to help positively shape the emotional culture of their organization?

Get a Handle on the Current Emotional Culture

Barsade and O’Neill argue that it begins with simply getting a handle on the existing emotional culture. Whether through employee surveys, employee engagement apps, or other creative means of gathering relevant data, the starting place is understanding the current emotional culture. In such surveys, it may begin with capture basic emotions such as joy, love, anger, fear, and sadness.

Proactively Create and Shape an Emotional Culture

Once the current emotional culture is identified, it’s time to start thinking about how leaders and managers may take the next steps of creating and shaping a healthy emotional culture in the organization.

Barsade and O’Neill present three key steps in this process:

  1. “Harness what people already feel”
  2. “Model the emotions you want to cultivate”
  3. “Get people to fake it till they feel it”

I will stop here at this point. However, more can be noted about these so I will continue to unpack each of these in the coming post in this series next week.

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For now, consider a few questions:

  • Are you considering the emotional culture of your organization, or are you, as Barsade and O’Neill suggest is the case with many people, only focusing on the cognitive and behavioral dimensions of organizational culture?
  • What steps can you take to gain perspective on the current state of your organization (or team’s) emotional culture?
  • What steps can you take to positively shape the culture of your team or organization in future days?

I’ll pick up more with emotional culture next week.

 

Leadership, Work, and the Priority of Purpose

Purpose Logo, leesean, Flicker

Purpose Logo, leesean, Flicker

Purpose matters. As evidenced by the popularity of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life—a book that has sold over 30 million copies—people have an innate desire to know that their lives matter and that their lives are shaped by a sense of purpose. One CEO, Dave Dillon, expressed it this way: “All human beings want to find meaning in their lives.”

Purpose and Leaders

While purpose is a priority for all human beings engaged in all types of work, purpose holds unique importance for leaders. Why is this? Leaders have an important role to play in shaping the culture and direction of the organizations they lead. Will this culture and direction be shaped by an anemic vision of life and organizational purpose, or will it be shaped by a vital sense of purpose and mission that connects to something larger than themselves and contributes to the flourishing others?

Engaging the importance of purpose for leadership, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, asks the following questions: “What is your True North? Do you know what your life and leadership are all about, and when you are being true to yourself?

Personal and Organizational Purpose

Although this begins with a personal sense of purpose for leaders, this “True North” purpose is vital at both the personal and organizational levels. Does the leader personally have a sense of purpose guiding their life? Does the leader also see a greater sense of purpose in the work organizationally? Understanding purpose at both the personal and organizational levels is vital for leaders and followers alike.

Theologically-Based Purpose

Amy Sherman provides thoughtful reflection on purpose and vocation in her book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. In discussing the core of Christianity Sherman writes: “The gospel of the kingdom tells us not only what we’re saved from, but also what we’re saved for. We have purpose, we have a sacred calling, we have a God-giving vocation….”

In other words, God has made, shaped, and redeemed our lives for a purpose. The Bible reminds us that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Because of the gospel, our lives are not only moving away from something but our lives are to be oriented toward and for something as well.

Practically-Effective Purpose

Not only is purpose in work and leadership a theologically grounded idea, it is also practically effective and backed by a growing research base. In another post I highlighted the work I’ve been doing with the Purpose in Leadership Inventory (PLI). Along with additional leadership variables such as goal-orientation and follower-focus, the variable of purpose in leadership is showing strong statistical relationships with other important variables. Purpose in leadership—a leader’s sense of personal and organizational purpose—is significantly related to leadership effectiveness, follower job satisfaction, follower organizational commitment, and follower sense of person-organization fit.

Identifying Your Purpose

Amy Sherman argues that our vocational sweet spot is found at the center of three domains: (1) God’s priorities, (2) personal passions and gifts, and (3) the world’s needs. Understanding this vocational sweet spot goes a long way in understanding one’s purpose. Bill George makes a similar affirmation arguing that “following your passions will enable you to discover the purpose of your leadership.”

Understanding your purpose as a leader is not simply about personal fulfillment. Understanding your purpose and how this relates to the organization you serve shapes the lives of others. Leader purpose helps followers to be more satisfied in their work, have a better sense of their fit in the organization, and have increased commitment to their work and to their organization.

Taking the Next Step with Purpose

So what is your purpose? What is the “True North” that guides you in your life, work, and leadership? Whether taking to time to read a book such as Bill George’s True North, or engaging with a peer or coach who may help you better clarify your vocational sweet spot and sense of purpose, purpose needs to be a priority. Take time to prioritize reflection on purpose in your life, leadership, and work in the coming days.

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine … it also increases productivity!

Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

– Proverbs 17:22

In a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, the title of a sidebar mini-article caught my attention … “Start Your Next Meeting with a Joke.”

In the highlighted research, teams with at least one person in a good mood were more than twice as likely to solve a puzzle as teams whose members were all in neutral moods. The article explains, “people in good moods are more likely to share knowledge and seek information from others, which cues the rest of the group to follow suit.”

As noted above, Proverbs 17:22 reads:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not only is a joyful heart good medicine at the individual level, joy is also contagious. And, according to researcher Kyle Emich, this positive spirit also leads to greater productivity in teams. In other words, joy is not only pleasant, it is also productive.

What are you bringing to your team today? Are you bringing a negative or neutral mood, or are you bringing joy and positivity?

37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations. Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

Hindrances to Change

I’m teaching a graduate course on organizational leadership this semester. Yesterday, our lecture focused on barriers to change. From change theorists like Kurt Lewin on to others today, it is argued that change may only take place if the driving forces working toward change are greater than the restraining forces working to maintain the status quo.

In light of such perspective on change, leaders must be aware of the significant forces, barriers, and hindrances working against change.

I see hindrances or barriers to change grouping around four primary domains:

  1. Intrapersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to individuals
  2. Interpersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to the interpersonal relationships between individuals
  3. Team & Organizational Dynamics: barriers related to team and organizational systems and structures
  4. Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics: barriers related to the larger context within which organizations are embedded

In order to better understand the restraining forces at work against change, I present these 37 barriers to change grouped around the four above noted domains.

Intrapersonal Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Personally)
  • Risk Adverse
  • Complacency
  • Fear of Increased Responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to Experience the Discomfort of Change
  • Threat to Personal Values & Perspectives
  • Comfort with what is Familiar (peace before progress)
  • Suspicion of New Ideas
  • Focus on Self-Interest
  • Concerns for Job-Security

Interpersonal Dynamics

  • Lack of Trust
  • Resenting Interference of Others
  • Threat to Status in Community
  • Feared Loss of Power
  • Feared Loss of Positive Personal Relationships
  • Insular Approach to New/External Ideas
  • Feeling Excluded & Left Out
  • Poor Communication

Team & Organizational Dynamics

  • Focus on Past Success and Innovation
  • Social and Structural Self-Preservation
  • Institutional Focus over Focus on Purpose
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Feasible
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Necessary
  • Rule of a Change-Adverse Minority
  • Lack of Leader Vision & Leader Direction
  • High Cost (economic and human resources)
  • Failures Treated as Problems in the Organization Culture
  • Misalignment of Resources
  • Lack of Sponsorship by Senior Leadership
  • Lack of Training on How to Approach Change
  • Organizational Culture that Is Adverse to Change

Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Organizationally)
  • Economically Uncertain Environment
  • Fear of Unknown Environmental Realities
  • Concerns for Organizational Competition
  • Lack of Socio-Cultural Awareness
  • Not Considering the Needs/Wants/Aspirations of Environment or Society when Approaching Change

___________________________

Change is a reality in our world. Leaders who grow in their awareness of the barriers and restraining forces working against change will be better positioned to find solutions and carve out a positive change pathway for their community. In your organization, what barriers to change are most pronounced and how is your community working to find a productive pathway forward?

Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Photo: In the middle of nowhere, Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

FORESIGHT

Larry Spears argues that foresight is one of Robert K. Greenleaf’s core characteristics of servant leaders. Of foresight, Spears notes:

Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easy to identify. One knows it when one sees it. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.”

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE FOCUS OF FORESIGHT

This thread of learning from the past, observing the present, and anticipating the likely consequences of decisions on the future is critical. Focusing on only one of these areas can lead to leadership blind spots. Using and embracing all of them brings holistic perspective to leadership.

Past: The past is full of lessons, but it is not where we live. We must look to the past. We must listen to the past. We musts learn from the past. But, we must not live in the past. We must not only celebrate the past glory days of our organizations and communities.

Present: We must be present in the moment we’ve received, fully engaging the lives and mission we’ve been given as individuals and as organizations. At the same time, we must not be short-sighted and only live for the moment.

Future: Similarly, we must look to the future in light of the lessons of the past and present. We must anticipate and make course corrections based on likely outcomes and anticipated scenarios. But, we must not only look to the future. We can be so future-oriented that we miss the people and opportunities that are right in front of us. We must not live in the future, but rather look to the future for insights that inform the present.

STRATEGIC FORESIGHT

Although all organizational members benefit from looking at the past, present, and future, leaders in particular have this as part of their core job responsibilities. Leaders must learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Foresight is not about looking into a crystal ball to see the future. Foresight is about actively learning. It is about playing out future possibilities and scenarios in our minds based on the past and present knowledge we have of our organizations and world. It is about identifying with clarity what will be the likely future outcomes of decisions we make in the present.

FORESIGHT FOR TODAY

In other words, although foresight is looking to the future, foresight serves the present. Leaders look to likely future possibilities based on diverse possible decisions and scenarios, and then they return to the present to guide present-day decision making in light of this future-looking foresight activity.

As you look at the past, present, and possible futures in your organization, what narrative threads and patterns emerge? What lessons do these threads point to for your community? As you look to the future and anticipate likely outcomes of decisions, what decisions need to be made in the present to serve your organization in light of these desired outcomes?

Engage your leadership with foresight, guiding your present based on lessons from the past and foreseeing likely outcomes in your organizational future.