13 January 2014
The need for leaders to have vision is a common thread through most thinking, and it has been for a while, but I wonder how many people really understand what it is and perhaps it isn't really what is needed at all.
Within the English language, and that peculiar version of it that they use over the pond, we have exaggerated more and more; we hate things that we really simply dislike, things that are moderately good have become awesome, and so on.
Words have changed meaning too in the evolution of our native tongue, and while some of my generation bemoan this and the atrocities committed to our grammar, it is right that language, like everything else, should change. But in changing it needs to retain clarity, for that is what speech is about - communication.
Vision is also about clarity; we want our vision to be clear and focused, but when we talk about leaders needing to have vision it isn't really what we want them to have at all. There is no point in just being able to see clearly - anyone can do that - no, what we are talking about is foresight.
What we really look for in a leader is for them to be able to anticipate exploitable opportunities - to spot trends before they become so and to lead us unerringly towards success, or at the very least survival. We don't just want them to see; we want them to see the future.
It may seem that there is an element of sorcery here, and it's not that long ago that people who had visions might have found themselves on a bonfire. These days it is more likely that the shareholders will light a fire under you if you can't pull off the magic of foresight.
Being able to use foresight is instinctive in some, but it can be taught. It is a little like magic in that it isn't easy, but once you know how to do it you can make it look easy. It isn't foolproof and sometimes your plans will not work out as intended because you are working in a dynamic environment and there are a lot of variables, but those who can do it will get it right more often than not.
So let's stop talking about leaders needing vision. What we need are leaders who can see what will work and what won't. Foresight may not be as sexy a word as vision, but I think that it is a lot more appropriate.
John Bowen is an FM consultant