Foresight is not a word we use much these days. My hunch is since the answers to life are a mouse click away, we quickly grow weary of the discipline required to analyze how today’s actions affect tomorrow’s outcomes. However, the Servant Leader, according to Robert K. Greenleaf, maintains foresight as a central leadership trait.
Foresight is a characteristic that allows servant leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. Some may argue that you either have foresight or you don’t, but I disagree. I think exercising foresight can be learned. After all, someone taught us how to look both ways before crossing the street.
- Servant Leaders Make Decisions Based on Past, Present, and Future.
The ideal is making decisions based on collective pasts, presents, and futures versus an individual’s past, present, and future. The servant leader purposefully surrounds himself/herself with people who see things from different perspectives, and invites analysis of unintended consequences of decisions. For example: looking both ways before crossing the street. What if you ignored the collective pasts of drivers, other pedestrians, etc.? You might have a short present and would most certainly have a painful future, if one at all.
- Servant Leaders are Intuitive.
This opens the door to a “chicken and egg” argument. Does intuition come from foresight or vice versa? The reality is, both perpetually flow from each other. The more foresight I practice, the more intuitive my decision-making becomes. The more I rely on intuition, the more foresight I practice within the collective in order to validate my decisions. Exclusively relying on intuition ignores validated feedback, i.e., “I feel like it’s safe to cross the street, so there’s no need to look.” Exclusively relying on foresight leads to paralysis, i.e., “I don’t see a car coming, but I am confident one will, so there’s no way I’m crossing this street.” In essence, intuition is forged in the fires of experience, and is fine tuned via purposeful unintended consequences feedback.
- Servant Leaders Identify Current Trends and Make Wise Decisions.
Due to technology and the 24/7 media cycle, trends may not have the sticking power they did years ago; so in addition to identifying, servant leaders must carefully scrutinize to see if others are responding to whim or substance. Whimsical leaders rarely make wise decisions. Actually, they may not even make ethical decisions. How strongly did Greenleaf feel about it? He wrote:
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
This central ethic is not about the leader. It is about serving those he/she leads. That motivation makes careful scrutiny and wise decisions worth the effort.
Do you see what I see?