Develop Foresight as a Leader

On this day 150 years ago, Confederate and Union troops engaged in the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1-3, 1863 and claimed 51,000 souls. I have walked the battlefield, and it is indeed hallowed ground.

I was invited to Gettysburg by my good friends Jay and Laurie Lorenzen.  Each year they direct the “If Properly Led” Conference. It is the best leadership conference I have ever attended. I bunked in General Lee’s Headquarters in the heart of the battlefield. During the three days, Jay brought the battle to life with his passion and knowledge. The entire conference is a metaphor.  While walking the battlefield and learning about everything from the geography to the generals, Jay masterfully painted pictures of the leadership lessons from the battle.

Leadership lesson from Day 1 

Develop Foresight: the ability to see in such a way that you know what needs to be done.

general buford

General John Buford knew the value of good ground.  An experienced Cavalry officer, Buford seemed to see the whole forth-coming battle in his mind.  He knew how to read the ground, and he realized before the battle began that the high ground south and east of Gettysburg would ultimately determine the result of the battle.  Deploying for an in-depth defense, Buford used Herr Ridge and McPherson Ridge to delay the Confederates long enough for Reynolds and 1st Corps to arrive.  Reynolds then took up the battle, vowing to fight inch by inch in an effort to retain the high ground and fighting to hold it. Buford and Reynolds are given significant credit by historians for securing the Union victory. (adapted from “If Properly Led” notebook)

4 Tools to Develop Foresight

1.  Scenario planning. Foresight differs from vision. Strategic vision reflects a preferred, ideal future; Strategic foresight is the ability to anticipate and prepare for possible alternative images. One technique for enhancing your strategic foresight is to engage in regular scenario planning – outlining two or three potential futures with various possibilities and rehearsing how you might respond to each scenario. (Hammett, P., 2005)

For a detailed article on the advantages and disadvantages of scenario planning, click here.

2.  Trend Analysis. Using both qualitative and quantitative research, leaders can gain insight into the future by “seeing” and identifying current driving forces. Consider causes as well as impact.

3. Question existing paradigms. If starting points and hidden assumptions remain unexamined, strategic foresight can go astray. For example, do we have an out-dated notion of leadership development? What cultural values are involved? Does our involvement help or hinder sustainability and the leadership pipeline process?

4.  Collaborate widely and listen. The essence of the forward view is dynamic, not static.  Network with a variety of individuals rather than rely on any one “big-name” guru. Fully engage by listening and asking probing questions with the goal of understanding.

How will you develop foresight as a leader?



Hammett, P. (2005). Strategic foresight: A critical leadership competency accessed at on July 1, 2013.

Mietzner, D. & Reger, G. (2005). Advantages and disadvantages of scenario approaches for strategic foresight. accessed on July 1, 2013.

Slaughter, R. (2002). Developing and applying strategic foresight. accessed on July 1, 2013.

Photo Credit: creative commons license, Jen Goellnitz

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