Leadership Foresight Can Make All the Difference

A blindfolded man is about to walk off a cliff

What future perils leaders do not acknowledge or see, they do not attempt to change. Leaders who deny or overlook the small, early indicators of problems are not prepared to deal with them and so expose their followers to growing dangers.

Certainly, this is clear in the political and global realm. For example:

In September 2011, the United Nations supported a ‘Never Again’ campaign to end extreme hunger.  Unfortunately, the United Nations had to admit that early warning signs of impending disaster were evident, but ignored, and tens of thousands of people unnecessarily perished in the Horn of Africa.  “Not only must the international emergency response system become more flexible in responding to early warnings, we must have more regular support for risk reduction at national and community level,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström said of the non-governmental organization (NGO) initiative.  Could better leadership foresight have saved lives?  Are you missing important early warning signs at your company?

In 2014, the Daily Beast ran an article titled,Washington and London Ignored Warnings about the ISIS Offensive in Iraq.  It outlined several early warning signs that were missed as Isis was gaining strength.  This includes: receiving detailed warnings about jihadist plans to exploit Sunni resentment toward Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an uncovered plan to launch an ambitious takeover of northern and western Iraq, a shadow government that was formed in Mosul weeks before initiating the carefully planned takeover of the city.  In fact the Kurds’ intelligence head, Lahur Talabani, says he handed Washington and London detailed reports about the unfolding threat, and the warnings “fell on deaf ears.”

Whether it is encroaching famine due to climate change or early indicators that Isis was gaining strength, the whole world will suffer as these problems grow. If only we had had leaders who had the foresight and the power to change the direction of these two impending disasters.

In the corporate world, the ability to foresee problems that matter when they first emerge and the willingness to acknowledge and deal with them early is a leadership quality that can make the difference between success and failure. Woe to the leader at Kodak who refused to understand the shift from old-style film cameras to the now-pervasive digital cameras. Or look at the car industry… there was growing evidence that consumers were moving away from gas guzzlers but only the companies that built that trend into their future plans were able to deal effectively with the shift.

True leaders do not ignore hints of shifts in the economy, workplace or their marketplace. They are ready to learn all they can about what may affect their business in the future. That’s where their sights must be. They need to have plans in place to deal with the current situation but their organization relies upon their paying attention to what potentially lies ahead. 

What trends are developing now? Certainly the growth of technology will continue at exponential speed. The question is how this will affect different industries. The leaders who predict correctly and act now will be in a competitive position to deal with the changes ahead. We all see more and more millennials entering the work force. Does this present a problem or an opportunity? The leaders who foresee how the younger employees will affect their business are the ones who will be prepared for the future. 

Try to build the critical quality of foresight into your action learning for leadership development program. Strategic scenario planning and simulations are also a great option to get leaders to look toward future possibilities as they work on pressing strategic issues that impact the ‘here and now.’  The leaders who can win today and identify the emerging trends for tomorrow and adapt their business strategy to accommodate it will be the ones who can lead organizations into a healthy future. 

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/action-learning-leadership-development/

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