Three Cheers for Foresight

To be successful, leaders need to develop and hone their business foresight.  Used effectively, foresight focuses our attention on the time and space between the immediate, day to day tactical execution and the long-term strategic vision and planning.

Foresight in Action

Foresight involves thinking through our actions and behaviors and planning ahead to see the potential short-term, medium-term and long-term problems or consequences of these actions.  In simple terms: we need to think twice before doing once.

When we use foresight effectively, we:

  • Think through all the implications and complications of an issue
  • Consider how employees or customers will react to an action, today and over time
  • Think through competitor reactions
  • Reflect on the possible unintended consequence of our actions or behaviors

The Benefits of Foresight

  • Better Execution: As the cartoon shows, by using foresight and planning ahead, we can better get the job done.
  • Seeing a Problem Before It Becomes a Problem: If we see a problem before it is a problem, we are able to modify our course of action or we could focus on…
  • Nipping the Problem in the Bud: With foresight, we can defuse issues before they become issues.  This usually involves proactive communication to address issues before they fester and/or magnify.
  • Discovering an Opportunity: With foresight, we may be able to detect a business opportunity before our competition.

How to Develop Foresight

Developing foresight comes from experience and learning.  Full stop. 

Before any course of action or important conversation, we just need to spend the time to:

  • Think through the issues and possible unintended consequences that might occur in the short, medium and long term
  • Consider the possible reaction of stakeholders (employees, other leaders, suppliers, competitors, the press)
  • Role play (in our heads or with a fellow employee or supervisor) different scenarios that might arise due to the course of action
  • Develop a plan to avoid or mitigate the issues and consequences and to address the concerns of stakeholders


Developing strong business foresight is a crucial step in leadership development.  As leaders progress from front line managers to CEO’s, our attention shifts from what is happening today to what will happen in one week, in one month, in one year, and then finally at the most senior level, to what might happen in five years.  Without effective foresight, leaders will not be able to make this shift in attention.  Instead, we will remain focused on the day to day problems, limiting our career advancement and the potential and success of our businesses.

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The Curse of Knowledge

As leaders we are bedeviled by the Curse of Knowledge:

The Curse of Knowledge is the difficulty we have in imagining that another person does not know what we know.

The Curse of Knowledge rears its ugly head in three vital areas: communication, training, and sales.

Why are We Cursed?

Leaders are cursed because of the high level of our knowledge.  We usually have deep and specific knowledge and insight that has been honed over years of learning and experience.  Many complicated issues related to our business seem simple and easy to us because we know these issues so well.  As such, we cannot relate or understand when someone does not understand what to us is obvious.

Combatting the Curse

To combat our curse of knowledge, we need to do a better job when communicating, training and selling by keeping the following in mind:

Know That We Are Cursed:  We need to be aware that we are the experts and that others do not have the level of understanding that we have.  In the cartoon, Dilbert clearly does not have that awareness; he blames the other person for their inability to understand rather than looking critically at his inability to explain.

Know the audience: We need to know the capability of our audience and communicate in a way and at a level that the audience would understand.  In sales, we need to avoid the mistake that too many salespeople make in assuming that our customers understand our products and services.  Our customers are experts on their life or their business; they are not experts on our products or services.

Keep It Simple and Short: The simpler that we can make our communication the better.  As non-experts, our audience will have limited understanding and may have limited interest in what we are communicating.  So we need to be attentive to the limits of their attention span and their limits in understanding more than a few key points.

Use Understandable Language: We need to avoid technical language, jargon, abbreviations, and complex words in order to communicate clearly.

Plan Ahead:  Whether communicating orally or in writing, we need to plan ahead to organize the material in a way that is simple and easy for a non-expert to make connections with and understand.

Edit and Revise: We need to continuously improve our communication to ensure that we are understood.  This starts with critiquing and editing our own work: if the communication is written, we should go back after some time and re-read (aloud if at all possible) to ensure that our writing is clear; if the communication is oral, we should reflect and critique our presentation and improve. 

Get Feedback: We should get second opinions on our work.  For written work, this involves having another person read what we have written.  In a presentation or selling situation, we get feedback by reading the body language of the audience or asking questions to ensure that we have been understood.


The Curse of Knowledge muddies the waters and prevents us from communicating effectively; our written messages, our training, our sales presentations are not easily understood and are thus less effective.  Through combatting the Curse of Knowledge, our communication will become clear and understood.  And, as Marcus Buckingham writes, being clear is fundamental to being an effective leader:

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant…They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear.

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Four Ways to Overcome Confirmation Bias

overwhelming-disproof-confirmation-bias-1The biggest decision-making bias for all of us is the confirmation bias.

Wikipedia explains it well:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making.

As a leader, we are tasked with making effective decisions for both the long and short term.  To do this, we need to base our decisions on the evidence available to us.  As such, we need to overcome our natural confirmation bias.

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Avoid Fair Fights (But Fight Fair)

Whether we are competing in our core business, starting a new business venture, or looking to win a new, large job or project, we need to focus our energies on areas where we have a competitive advantage.

We need to dispassionately assess the competitive landscape and determine where our competitive advantage lies and whether it will truly differentiate us from the competition in the eyes of our customers.

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The Necessity of a Good Cadence

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, cadence is defined as “the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or action.”

In the business context, cadence is used to describe regularly scheduled activities, specifically regularly scheduled meetings, follow-ups, visits or other actions.

As leaders, we need to set up a cadence of activities with our team to ensure that we are following up, checking in on them, assisting them, and holding them accountable.

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Use the ‘Base Rate’ for Better Decisions

Data - Base RateThe IT project took twice as long as planned.  The construction project to expand the plant went over budget.

Why does this always happen?

Too many decisions are made with too much self-confidence and too much optimism.  As a result, poor decisions are made and objectives are not realized.  The decision-making flaw in all these situations is that we do not consider the ‘base rate.’

The base rate represents the statistical average of what happened previously – what were the actual results for people who made similar decisions in the past.

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Flexible“Predictions are difficult – especially about the future.”

This quote from Yogi Berra sums up the challenges we all face in today’s dynamic and fast-changing world.

None of us has a crystal ball that allows us to predict the future and the rapid changes in our business environment that the future will bring.

The best response to an uncertain future is to build a culture of flexibility and rapid adaptability in our organizations.

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10 Fundamentals of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvementWhen continuous improvement is a fundamental part of our company culture, our business gets better every day and will soon out-run and out-perform the competition.  Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford wrote:

The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is difficult.  This is especially true for currently profitable and high performing organizations who are content and follow the old adage of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Ten fundamentals to consider when trying to become a continuous improvement organization. Continue reading

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Crisis Leadership

Uncertain WorldAs I write this blog, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Each day brings changes to how and where we can conduct business; we have little visibility into what the next month, three months, or six months will bring; and many of our employees are fearful.

To help those leaders during this and other crises, I offer some suggestions to how we can lead our businesses in uncertain times.


Keep Calm

First of all, we need to keep calm and project an image of calm and confidence.  Our employees look to us for guidance.  The calm and confidence comes from the certainty that we will survive this.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow and we do not know when this uncertainty will end.  But, we do know that (with the collective efforts of our great team), we will do everything to make it through.

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To Improve Our Meetings, We Need to Do Our Homework

Homework 2The consultant, Stan Sipes, once commented:

“The most common weakness I see in organizations is the lack of work that is done in a meeting.” 

Today, more than ever, so little work is done in meetings because no one has done their homework to actually prepare for the meetings.

As a result, a meeting with the objective to discuss and make a decision morphs into a meeting that is 95% informational (getting everyone up to speed) and 5% decision-making (which usually becomes just a rubber stamp because we have run out of time and attention).

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Be Opportunistic

Opportunities“There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? Jim Collins (Great by Choice)

Being opportunistic means that we take advantage of those opportunities that unexpectedly cross our paths.  To best position ourselves to capitalize opportunities, we need to:


Be Prepared

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11 Keys to Better Decision-Making

Decision1Successful leaders make good decisions… consistently.

Good decision-making is dependent on a number of factors: understanding, experience, intelligence, foresight, and just plain luck.  There is no guide that will tell you how to make the perfect decision.  But, there are some keys to better decision-making that, when followed, will help to improve the quality and consistency of your decisions.

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For Effective Communication, Listen… Really Listen

Listen Weakness“It’s not always what we say; often it’s what we allow the other person to say. By listening, we gain trust and make other people feel more comfortable with us.”  Rick Pitino


The ability to listen well, to really listen well, is one of those “soft skills” that distinguish effective leaders from run-of-the-mill managers.

As leaders, effective communication requires that we listen well to understand the true views and opinions of our team, our customers, and other stakeholders.

Four keys to such effective communication include:

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Three Ways to Develop Strategic Thinking Skills

Strategic Thinking SkillsStrategic thinking skills differentiate middle-level managers from effective upper level leaders.  With excellent strategic thinking skills, the leader is able to make effective decisions that benefit their companies in both the short and long term.

Developing strategic thinking skills requires practice.  It requires us to think strategically and see the consequences of our thinking.   Three ways to get this practice and develop great strategic thinking skills include:

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Survival of the Fittest and Leadership Flexibility

Oh Crap Was That TodayHawaiians and other Polynesians are the descendants of peoples who traveled by boat from East Asia to settle their islands.  Those most likely to survive the long and arduous journey were those with “thrifty genes”.  They were those ancestors who were best able to process and use the limited food on their boat trips.  Today, in a world of cheap and plentiful food, these same “thrifty genes” have led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among their descendants.  What worked in one time may not work in another.

I share this anecdote to drive home the point that “survival of the fittest” does not mean survival of the toughest or meanest in a dog eat dog world.  Rather, the survival and success of the fittest requires that we be flexible and adaptive in our leadership focus, style, and vision depending on the needs of the marketplace and our companies. Continue reading

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A Good Leader is a Good Follower

mindless followerEven as leaders, we all have bosses.  Perhaps, it is a Vice-President.  Perhaps, it is the CEO.  Perhaps, it is the Board of Directors.

To move our companies forward, we need to be good (but not mindless) followers to our good bosses.

Support the Boss

The success of any organization requires that everyone is rowing in the same direction.  So, our job as followers is to ensure that we devote ourselves to following and supporting the direction in which our boss is taking us.  This means supporting their key initiatives and doing what is required to further the goals and objectives of our boss.

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Four Ways To Do Training Right

Off-The-Job-Training-Cartoon1In corporate America, approximately $100 billion is spent each year on training.  Yet, many studies show that training is only 10% – 15% effective.  As Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer writes, this is…

the great training robbery

Yet, training is a vital part of developing a winning team.  So, how can we do training right?


Keep It Simple… Keep It Small… Keep It Focused

Training is only useful when it can be put into action and change our thoughts and behaviors.  The best way to do this is to change one habit at a time.  As such, our training goals need to be modest and focused on one (or at absolutely most, three) specific concepts at a time.    In addition, the trainer needs to be explicit about how the training relates to the trainee’s job and how the training can be put into action.

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Communicate in One Page

One Page MemoIdea Summary

To run our businesses more effectively, most documents and reports in our businesses (including summaries, plans, reviews, and analysis) should be kept to one page.



Businesses are awash in information, specifically reports, analysis, weekly updates or reviews, which are rarely read and, even more seldom, acted upon.  As an example, the one page Executive Summary is a relic of the past, now replaced by Executive Summaries of 3 – 5 pages or even longer.  Such long reports or analyses are time-consuming to write and usually too complex to translate into actionable steps to move our companies forward

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5 Key Interpersonal Skills for Leaders

“Abraham Lincoln said that people think that the real test of a person’s character is how they deal with adversity. A much better measure of a person’s character is to give them power. I’ve been more often disappointed with how people’s character is revealed when they’ve been given power.”  Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria

As leaders, we have power. We have the power to direct and lead others; we have the greater power in all of our interpersonal relations. This power requires us to be even more attentive in our interpersonal relations to ensure that we do not abuse this power, but instead that we are as effective as possible in developing open, positive, two-way communication with our teams.

So, what can we do to develop strong interpersonal relations with the people who work for us?

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Don’t Believe the Hype

Hype“The world is changing faster than ever before.”

“We need to adapt to the change or we will get run over by it.”

“The paradigm has shifted and the world will never be the same.”

“Robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will disrupt every industry and company on the planet.”

The hype from the media about the change happening in the world is nearly overwhelming.  As such, many of us live in fear that we and our businesses are not changing fast enough.

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