Leadership Foresight

July 6, 2011

The topic of tonight’s #leadfromwithin chat on Twitter was foresight. The hour long discussion was led by Lolly Daskal and Greg Waddell, and hundreds participated.

I talk about foresight in my MBA classes on Organizational Behavior as part of our class discussion of leadership. I share with my students this quote about foresight from Robert K. Greenleaf’s 1977 book:

This is the central ethic of leadership.  The failure (or refusal) to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure, because a serious ethical compromise today (when the usual judgment on ethical inadequacy is made) is sometimes the result of a failure to make the effort at an earlier date to foresee today’s events and take the right actions when there was freedom for initiative to act. The action we label unacceptable in the present moment is often really one of no choice. (Greenleaf, 1977, emphasis added)

Foresight is a learned habit, not a mystical gift that only a few oracles possess. Foresight is the discipline of systematically thinking through the unintended consequences of every decision you make. It requires the wisdom to purposefully surround yourself with people that you know won’t always see things the way you do and will have the courage to challenge you when they disagree. It requires the humility to admit publicly when you failed to foresee an unintended consequence of a decision and the grit to continually learn from your mistakes. Foresight demands real accountability and integrity.

Leaders that are more intent on telling than on listening care about themselves more than they care about you. I’ve learned from experience that foresight is not a high priority for leaders lost in the fog of their own hubris.

As the central ethic of leadership, leaders covet the development of foresight for the benefit of those they’ve been given the privilege to lead.  Leaders that fail to assume responsibility for developing the discipline of foresight will eventually forfeit the moral authority to lead.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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  1. LeaderLab » Closeout for 7.8.11 | July 8, 2011
  1. Shandel says:

    i was going to join in but didn’t get on until 555! next time!!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    you should try it sometime! Lolly runs one of the best Twitter chats out there. Thanks, Bret

  2. John Griffin says:

    “Leaders that fail to assume responsibility for developing the discipline of foresight will eventually forfeit the moral authority to lead.”

    I find that a very powerful and challenging statement. As the owner/leader of my company, I’ve taken this to heart. Additionally, as I’ve told you before, I’ve gone back to school for my MBA and will start Org Behavior in 2 weeks. So, you’ve given me a jump on the subject 🙂

    Thank you!! As usual, very thought provoking!!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, John! Very encouraged that you are assuming responsibility to go back to school to continually improve yourself. Keep it up! Bret

  3. Simon Harvey says:


    Nice post. Those that get lost in their own fog end up going around in circles and wasting a lot of energy and resources.(An accident waiting to happen-Enron-Banks etc)

    Unfortunately because of the fog, their higher ups and subordinates may not see their obvious lack of foresight. Some leaders without foresight may even (by shear luck or help from a subordinate) make it out the other side and look like they made it with foresight.

    But as you rightly say:

    ” Foresight demands real accountability and integrity.”

    Without these you should not be leading anyone or anything.

    Foresight is a skill that goes hand in hand with self awareness and situation awareness. It has deep ties with intuition that may enable certain personality types to tap into it a little easier, but this does not mean that it comes attached to good leadership. Being good at one does not mean you are good at the other, they must coexist.

    For me great leadership and foresight come from within.

    Thanks for the post,


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Simon! I appreciate your thoughts about foresight. It’s as much art as science, but I do believe it can and must be developed in leaders. Thanks for sharing! Bret