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.
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