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Leadership Foresight

Updated: Dec 25, 2021

As a leader, how awesome would it be if we could simply hop into our DeLorean and head back in time with Marty McFly! Think of all the great decisions we could try and re-do if they failed....

Yeah, I know - we can't do that. Besides, I feel like having that ability would take all of the fun out of leading. Yes, failing in leadership can be fun (maybe not in the moment, but hear me out). How do we develop our perceptions/perspectives? Life experience. All of us have had those moments where we acted and didn't like the outcome and other times we did. Each of these outcomes shapes how we view and interact with our environment today.

Here is an example...Ladders and I don't get along. Really, I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen off a ladder. Recently, I was moving some items up to our attic and well....

As you can see from the two leg holes, I need to spend more time reflecting on my life decisions and accepting that my two feet should not leave the ground. However, I can now say with certainty that if I want to get something into the attic, I know using a ladder will lead me to falling off said ladder - thus, I need to think of another way.

Thinking back on your personal and professional journey, I am sure there are a number of experiences you can think of that would inform how you respond to situations today. These may be situations that ended in positive results or outcomes that were less than desirable. Regardless of the outcome, those experiences help you make decisions today.

I had a conversation with a leader the other week around the topic of foresight. This leader stated they really struggled with this concept and worried that their inability to be able to "see into the future" would limit their professional growth.

This led me back to some great insight from the servant leadership literature by DeGraff, Tilley, and Neal (Booklet 6). According to these authors, foresight is important to help leaders understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequences of a decision for the future (p. 15). In previous articles, I have written about the value of viewpoints. Our viewpoints are made up of three key elements: assumptions, perceptions, and expectations. When we think of the ability for leaders to see into the future, what we are asking is how you, as the leader, believe our current decisions or actions will impact our ability to get to our desired state.

"Foresight allows us to map out how we will get to our destination by anticipating the various consequences of our actions and picking the actions that will serve us best" (p. 15). I believe we all have the ability to make decisions about the future. With this, I also believe we all have the ability to make a decision, be wrong, then adapt based on the time and circumstances present. I worry that we don't give ourselves enough credit with foresight.

If you are someone who feels they struggle with foresight, I offer the following three steps from DeGraff, Tilley, and Neal:

  1. Understand the past: Leaders who have a sense of history, as well as an accurate picture of their organization, are better placed to engage the future.

  2. Engage the future: Leaders should become more purposeful and aware of the world around them by being informed about trends and issues not just within their own area of interest or sphere of influence, but widely as possible in order to make connections which foster new ideas.

  3. Remove the 'blinders' and develop creativity: We have a tendency towards blind spots, usually caused by conditioning or prior expectations, which have to be recognized and overcome if the skills of foresight and conceptualization are to be developed.

One of the words I appreciated the authors connecting to foresight is creativity. I believe we all have the ability to be creative with our decision making process. The issue is how much we allow our 'blinders' to influence us. As leaders, no one expects us to be perfect. We are all going to make mistakes. If we can accept this, I feel we will develop a sense of comfort in developing our foresight skills.

I leave you with this quote from Robert Branson, "It is not the dimensions that usually separate companies, such as superior technology, more astute market analysis, better financial base, etc.; it is unconventional thinking about its dream of what this business wants to be, how its priorities are set and how it organizes to serve. It has a radical philosophy and self-image" (p. 18).

Until next time, take care.


Jason is an Executive and Professional Coach with SLI Coaching a Consulting. To learn more about Jason and SLI Coaching and Consulting, visit

For those interested - here is a link to the booklet I have been referencing.

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