The thought of or aspiring to be visionary (a.k.a. having foresight) can be a little intimidating. To me, this used to seem more like a supernatural gift rather than a skill that I could develop. Yet while there is an aspect of “nature” over “nurture” in foresight, anyone can learn, implement and benefit from this powerful leadership practice. Remember, foresight is the “lead” in leader.
There are three steps you can take that will begin to unlock foresight for you and put you out in front. Not to hail yourself as leader, but to enable you to chart a course that people trust and want to follow.
Step One – Learn everything you can
This first step lays the essential ground work for foresight. The simplest and most valuable building block of foresight is to understand the past. Read biographies, business books, leadership books, history books and blogs to gain a broad perspective on a subject. Study the trends in your topic or industry over the past 5, 10 and even as many as 50 years. By studying historical trends, in 1967 James McSwinney, CEO of the Mead Corporation, declared that “the world is going digital.” He said this without knowing exactly what this meant, but it ultimately led to Mead purchasing a small company working on inkjet technologies and databases. This little company developed into Lexis and Nexis. Today LexisNexis is the most respected source of digitally-based information in the world.
If you are studying a specific situation or organization, dive into old project documents, status reports and case studies to uncover clues for your present situation. These clues will come from successes, mistakes and the bright spots of what’s worked in the past. On top of this, and equally as powerfully simple, talk to people. Make sure you create a safe environment for these conversations and remain in curiosity mode throughout. You’ll be amazed at what folks are willing to share that will be precious fuel for your journey to foresight.
In this step you’re learning everything you can about the specifics of the situation or organization you’re leading. You might even want to add social media outlets like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. These are an amazing source of unfiltered feedback from employees (present and past), customers and vendors.
This step (as are the next two) is scalable from the smallest of concerns to decisions that will affect the direction of the largest multi-national organizations. Next week I’ll share the next two steps in the practice of foresight.