Why Visionary Leaders Develop Multiple Future Outlooks



“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.” — Chuck Palahniuk

Rather than lock yourself into one future, you can plan for multiple scenarios.

This way, you can evaluate your options and choose better paths if things change.

You’ll be surprised less, and you’ll be better equipped to respond to things that you didn’t expect.

By planning for multiple future outlooks, you’ll develop an agile mind and you’ll be better able to adapt to changing circumstances as they unfold.

In the book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, Rob-Jan De Jong shares how effective leaders plan for multiple futures so they can respond with skill.

Should Leaders Anticipate Multiple Futures?

If you want to be a more effective leader, you should anticipate multiple futures.  But that means giving up appearing to know it all, to have it all figured out, and to confidently know the one sure path.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“But a question we struggle with is whether developing multiple future outlooks fits with the expectations we have of a leader and a leadership team.  Don’t we admire those leaders who emanate confidence in the path they have set out for the organization, rather than those who don’t disguise their doubt and anticipate various different future outlooks?

Aren’t those that explore exit strategies before before they even get started in realizing their vision just too insecure to stand the heat of resolute decision making?  Wouldn’t it therefore be detrimental to their leadership persona if they exposed their uncertainty by anticipating multiple futures?”

Leaders Must Be Both Stubborn and Open-Minded

It’s the Leadership Paradox.  You have to be bold and stubborn, but at the same time, curious and open-minded.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why, fittingly observed that ‘one of the best paradoxes of leadership is a leader’s need to be both stubborn and open-minded.  A leader must insist on sticking to the vision and stay on course to the destination.  But he must be open-minded during the process.’”

Brilliant or Foolish?

De Jong shares a story to illustrate the Leadership Paradox in action. In this case, Glenmark, an India-based pharmaceutical company followed a high-risk innovation strategy in drug discovery.  In 2001, Glenn Saldanha reoriented Glenmark from a generic drug producer since 1977 to an innovator, focusing on drug discovery and research.

This strategy paid off during 2004-2007, but took a downturn in 2008.  Glenn Saldanha persevered with the high-risk innovation agenda, despite the warning signs and increasing challenges.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“What should we think of this leadership position? Dedicated or stubborn? A leader who stands for what he truly cares about, or a leader unwilling to challenge his own assumptions? It’s Sinek’s leadership paradox in action. 

We tend to admire leaders who dare to make a bold decision and take courageous positions.

Being dedicated, persistent, and decisive is admirable and undoubtedly a leadership quality, but it becomes foolish when it arises from stubbornness and a  fundamental, dogmatic unwillingness to change course–even if in hindsight that strategic choice turned out to be successful.”

Brilliant Leaders Review Options and Alternatives with an Open Mind

If your choose your path as the best alternative among the choices, that’s brilliance in action.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“If Saldanha carefully and without preconception reviewed his options and alternatives, including exit conditions and strategist (possibly using scenario planning as a technique), and eventually, with an open mind, arrived at the conclusion that continuing his path was the best alternative at that point in time, it would lean toward brilliance.”

Foolish Leaders Attach Beliefs, Persona, and Self-Esteem to One Point of Reference

If you stick to your path because you are emotionally invested and you attached your self-esteem to one course of action, that’s a foolish choice.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“Unfortunately, the case does not reveal this part of the story.  But as the remarkable British thinker Gregory Bateson once said, ‘There is no wisdom in only one point or reference.’  I think that is what Saldanha opted for: overconfidence in the point of reference to which he attached his beliefs, persona, and self-esteem. 

If I am right, it would have been foolishness–and in some way mere luck that things turned out well

We should not confuse luck with brilliance as we try to distill lessons from a case like this one.”

Maybe you can’t predict the future, but you can anticipate and plan for it.

If you plan for multiple alternatives you also help free yourself up from the emotional attachment that comes with putting all your eggs in one basket and you can choose smarter paths.

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