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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jan 29, 2021


How do you plan when the future is uncertain? Strategic foresight is a great approach to figuring out how to think about the future.



Hello and welcome to episode 105 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore strategic foresight and how to think about the future when things are uncertain.

It’s a classic challenge - how do we lead others through times of uncertainty when we’re not clear ourselves? Perhaps our industry is going through significant change. Or perhaps you report into a leadership team that haven’t provided a clear strategy and direction. We can’t just make things up - that’s not fair on our team - so what do we do?

What we need is strategic foresight, which is outlined in a great Harvard Business Review article with the intriguing title - Learning from the Future.

The author of the article, J Peter Scoblic, says of strategic foresight that the “aim is not to predict the future but rather to make it possible to imagine multiple futures in creative ways that heighten our ability to sense, shape, and adapt to what happens in the years ahead. Strategic foresight doesn’t help us figure out what to think about the future. It helps us figure out how to think about it.”

He outlined the following six stage process for Strategic Foresight - invite, identify, imagine, inhabit, isolate and implement:

  • The first stage is INVITE - we need to invite the right people to participate. Senior leaders don’t have exclusive rights to think about the future. Rather than just involving those with the greatest responsibility, it is often better to involve those with the greatest vision. That might include some people closest to your customers, or people who have joined from other industries. We really want to bring together a group of people that are diverse in their thinking and experience, and open to new possibilities.

  • The second stage is IDENTIFY - here we think about assumptions that we might be making as an organisation. We also explore the key drivers for our organisation and any uncertainties in the market.

  • The third stage is called IMAGINE. This involves imagining what Scoblic describes as plausible, but dramatically different, futures. So let’s take my business as an example. We’re focus on helping people to become even better leaders. I could imagine a few different futures - where leadership development was only face-to-face, only online, some mix of the two, only live, only on-demand. From that diverse range of potential futures, I could then take the three that were most plausible.

  • The fourth stage is to INHABIT each of those futures. Here we want to really experience what each future could be like, and what that might mean for us. You could encourage your team to describe what each future looks like, how people might respond, and what might or might not be possible.

  • The fifth stage is to ISOLATE strategies that will be useful across multiple possible futures. Again, with my business, running through a range of options back at the end 2018 showed me that online delivery and content development was something I should focus on. It was a strategy that would work across a range of likely futures.

  • The final stage is IMPLEMENT. This is where we take those strategies and put them in place.

Why not undertake a strategic foresight activity with your team. Here are some questions to help:

  • What trends do you see in your market? What are the emerging opportunities and threats?

  • What are some likely futures for your organisation and team? What are the three most likely futures?

  • What does each future look like? What are the implications for you and your team?

  • What might be common in those different futures for you and your team? How might you prepare for each of those futures?

  • Is there one future that you want to actively pursue? Why? What might you do now to prepare for that?

It is great to be back for 2021 with a brand new episode, and I hope you found it helpful. I must say that 2021 feels a little bit like 2020 part 2, so I do hope you’re keeping safe and well.

I have two exciting new things to tell you about. Our Leading Through Change and Uncertainty online course is now available. If you enjoyed today’s episode then you will love this course. It’s video based so you can go at your own pace and work through the content in any order. It’s all part of Leadership Today On-Demand, so current subscribers will see it there. If you haven’t subscribed as yet, why not take our completely free 30 day trial. Just go to Leadership Today and follow the On-Demand link to find out more - or you can follow the link in the show notes. We also offer a 25% discount for groups, so it’s a great option for your team and organisation.

I see Leadership Today On-Demand as just like online fitness training for your leadership. So I’m really excited to let you know about our very first multi-day challenge. It runs from 22nd to 26th of February and the focus is on Reflection.  I believe most leaders are suffering from what I call reflection deficit, so this challenge aims to tackle that head on. Each morning starts with a brief video introducing the challenge for that day. These are backed up by a workbook that includes a range of reflection activities. It’s just like bootcamp, but with far less active wear. Check out the Radical Reflection Challenge at Leadership Today On-Demand for more details.

Have a great week, and I look forward to speaking with you again next week.