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by Beth High
Leadership Challenge Certified Master
In considering the topic of this newsletter, I found myself uncomfortable with the coupling of vision and forecasting and the fact that they fell right next to the topic of leadership and the future. While I felt clear about the importance that vision plays for leaders looking toward the future, I felt shaky about that forecasting component. What role did that play?
An easy way out would have been to just write about the importance of vision for leaders and leave it at that. But l just couldn't bring myself to do that. That forecasting element just kept gnawing away at me. After many interesting conversations and much contemplation, I finally arrived at a connection between the two and how they could relate to leadership and the future. I invite you to try it out, see what you think.
Let’s start with some of the things that get forecasted. There’s the weather, the stock market, and future fashion trends. As with any forecast, we listen to the prediction then sit back and wait to see if it will come true. Will it really snow tomorrow? Will the stock market go even lower? Will skirts go even higher?
There's not much we can do about any of those things. By contrast, when it comes to a compelling vision of the future, we can play a part. In fact, we are driven to be part of this vision quest,whether it comes true or not. A forecast is a hypothesis of what will be due to forces beyond our control, beyond our individual ability to influence or change it. A vision is a hypothesis of what can be, totally dependent on our ability not only to influence it but also to drive it, fuel it, further it.
The main differentiator between the two then is action. With forecasts we take a reactive role: bring the umbrella, call the broker to buy or sell the stock, or buck the trend and wear last year’s perfectly good skirt that we love. With vision, we engage. We are compelled to take action, to impact, not just react to, the outcome. A colleague and dear friend of mine shared a message he had found inscribed on a 17th century church in England. It said:
“Action without vision is drudgery;
vision without action is merely a dream.
But vision with action is the hope of the world."
I believe this speaks volumes about the role and importance of vision for leaders contemplating the future. I don't think we'd ever say that forecasting holds the hope of the world. Forecasts are often wrong. Does this mean leaders will never forecast? No. However, when I think of leaders who do, the ones who come to mind are those who base their inspiration in fear, not in hope. They attempt to sell us on a dire forecast in order to get a reaction. I'm sure we can all think such of examples, and not all of them in the distant-past either.
Does forecasting the future have a role in leadership? Sure. It can serve as an interesting starting point for a vision. But without the excitement and sense of purpose that a great vision of the future holds, it's nothing more than a data point. It's the picture that leaders chose to paint with those data points that will tell the future.
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