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.
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.
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.