Do You Lead Through Hindsight, Insight or Foresight?

Do You Lead Through Hindsight, Insight or Foresight?

Posted by in Leadership, The Leadership Coach™

My friend Mark is an Optical Engineer in the Australian Army and amongst other things he calibrates scopes for snipers. You know you’re passionate about leadership when even talking about weapon calibration gets you thinking about leadership principles! One statement he made really stuck with me “Just a 1mm adjustment of a screw slightly bigger than a pinhead can cause the firer to miss their target by more than 2 metres when firing from the common distance of one kilometre. Such a small change made in the wrong direction can have catastrophic consequences”.

So when did you last fine tune your vision as a leader? In the long run maintaining the right strategic focus for you and your business will be the difference between hitting your target or experiencing potentially catastrophic consequences.

Every leader must master three aspects of visionary sight –
1.    Hindsight: The ability to reflect and learn from the past
2.    Insight: The ability to interpret and respond to the present
3.    Foresight: The ability to predict and prepare for the future

But while every leader must operate in all three aspects of vision, which focus they rely on most will have far-reaching implications for the organisations they build.

Which focus do you favour?

Hindsight Leadership: Tends to emphasise the value of experience and evidence. They look at the future through the eyes of the past. Like a lawyer they tend to look for a precedent for every decision. They’re hoping it’s true that “history repeats itself”. Although we absolutely must reflect on the past and learn the lessons it offers us, we cannot afford to become overly focused on the past in our leadership any more than we can afford to drive whilst staring in the rear vision mirror.

Insight Leadership: Tends to emphasise the value of tactics and reality. They look at the future as an extrapolation of current events and trends. Finely tuned to what is happening around them, they hope that by responding correctly now they will experience success in the future. Although they’re not spending a lot of time looking backwards, they’re also not spending much time looking ahead. The focus becomes about where we are now and what step we could take next. For this leader the old adage not to “climb the ladder only to find it’s leaning across the wrong wall” contains an important warning.

Foresight Leadership: Tends to emphasise possibilities and innovation. They look at the future as uncharted territory or a clean slate. Although they reflect on the past and respond to the present, they are much more concerned with preparing for the future. They drive their organisations with glances in the rear vision mirror and awareness of their surroundings but more than anything else they have clear focus on where they are going and what’s coming up on the road ahead.

Leaders should consider what Mark reminds himself every time he checks a weapon, “In my line of work, making fine adjustments to a sniper’s sighting system can either improve their accuracy or severely hamper them from achieving their mission”.

•    So is it time to readjust your focus or recalibrate your team’s vision?
•    Or is your leadership allowing a “Ready… Fire… Aim” approach?
•    It’s mission critical to maintain the right direction and a future focus, especially in challenging economic times.

Your comments and feedback are appreciated
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11 Responses to “Do You Lead Through Hindsight, Insight or Foresight?”

  1. Gail

    04. May, 2009

    I love the “Ready… Fire… Aim” challenge. Unfortunately, particularly in these times, too many managers are taking a “Fire, fire, fire….” approach without checking if they are ready or where and when to best aim.

    It’s leaders who are take a proactive foresight approach to business who come out winners in the end. This means stopping and planning and repositioning your sighting before moving on.

    As I learnt from Paul recently, sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is nothing (ie stop doing what your currently doing).

  2. kristel

    05. May, 2009

    I agree that all three are required to lead, yet I see it as a scale & cycle, where the broken link rule applies, without one you cannot use the other, and the cycle will stop and be fruitless,
    Cycle example- a farmer to his farm he- plows-plants-tend-harvest-sell-feeds family. With one of these missing in this cycle the rest are pointless and a waste of time as their will never be a crop for that farmer! This is all just my mere interpretation! My be slightly twisted or wrong.
    Foresight –A action in looking forward. To possible outcomes or problems from an action now! (Plan details through Foresight)
    Hindsight- A ability to understand-obtain wisdom or knowledge on a passed event, and the significance & nature within the event, also to understand the impact to society affected within the event (Learn through Hindsight)
    Insight – The ability/capacity to perceive or discern a situation or event, intuitively on the true inner nature of things, to understand complex situations, while in them or before them, also the understanding of social cause verse effect of the event or situation.
    I think.. Hindsight is always better than Foresight, yet without Foresight, both Hindsight and Insight are Useless!
    Therefore I see not only do they fit into a Cycle with broken link rule applied- yet they also relate to a scale with the center being Insight and with Foresight and Hindsight need to come to a balanced scale!

  3. Grant Hamilton

    02. Feb, 2010

    This is very thought provoking and certainly started me thinking about what my focus is as a leader and of course all there have been relevant at different times. I can see the benefits of each aspect depending on the situation. Past, present and future is an essential focus for all leaders to take their vision further.

    Really enjoy reading your blogs Paul and they provide great insight and learnings.

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