Leaders by their very nature are under pressure to have advanced intellectual and emotional intelligence. In today’s economy, they better add one more – VQ, The Vision Quotient. The pace of change is speeding up. Each and everyday, the competition grows a bit smarter, and more of them from all over the world, extend into your territory. New technologies come on the market and mutate the foundational ways that organizations connect with prospects and complete transactions. Governments tax, regulate, dictate interest rates, and prosecute, and each time they do, the playing field changes. The more accurately you can see into this future, the more prepared you can be when we get there. This is just logical, however…
Sadly, we have bred a generation of leaders who are very execution focused and for whom the term “future” simply means the next quarter. Blame Wall Street, blame greedy shareholders or just blame greedy CEO’s if you choose, but the reality is, we have very few organizational leaders today who burn much energy really understanding where their industries will go in the next decade. They simply want to be successful within the boundaries of this year. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a great example in Steve Jobs of a leader who had an accurate vision of the future, and was willing to stick with it for years. He also had the courage to play out his vision of the future while competitors tried to copy products like Apple produced and failed. Steve won by simply designing his products better – and as we have learned, accurate vision plus great design – wins.
If I were a “follower” in a company and got the choice to pick my muse, I would pick having an accurate future vision as one of the top skills I would want in that leader. This is a skill by the way; it is not a God given talent. People that develop the ability to make accurate predictions on where an industry will go over time do so through extrapolating facts and trends, and adding innovative thinking to fill in the gaps. Emotional Intelligence must be learned over time as you become wiser about relating to others at a heart level. Vision Intelligence must be learned over time as you become wiser about how trends extrapolate, and how industries evolve. Only a handful of leaders out of any sampling of 100 actually have developed this ability. The others just step onto the gerbil wheel of their careers each day and deal with whatever is close at hand that will get them the largest bonus by the next measuring date.
I call having an accurate vision of the future being a “high beam” leader. One that can see the twists in the road a little better and a little earlier than their brethren in the industry. There seems to be around 1000 books a year that get written about some aspect of leadership, yet rarely do I see one that holds leaders accountable to have seen major industry changed before they happened. Consequently, we have a steady stream of large and well-known brands that simply laid down and died in the market because their leadership teams seemed to flat miss a major strategy change that needed to be made in their organization. Think I am being overly harsh? How many newspapers have we lost? Borders? Blockbuster? Kodak? Churches? Post Office locations? The list goes on.
And the list will go on until we get a generation of leaders who have a better ability to accurately see where their industries are going, how the underlying variables will change, and then have the courage to do something about it. The strangest thing to me about all of this is this… If you asked me for a good model of an industry that saw the future and did something about, I would have to point out the tobacco industry. They saw the demise of cigarette smoking in the US, and redeployed much or their cash into the food industry. Laugh all you want, at least they were willing to see the writing on the wall and survive. Many leaders in other markets have simply “led” their teams right off the cliff.
Even the mundane streets department in most cities does a better job of understanding the future and building roads to support future growth. One would think that our high paid leaders in the business word could at least do as good a job as the transportation departments!!