Why lack of foresight is an ethical failure
We are looking this week at the key lessons and learnings from The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf‘s brilliant book on leadership. The last several days we’ve been looking at the importance of foresight as a leadership trait.
But Robert tells us it is more than that.
Failure to practice foresight is not just a failure to demonstrate leadership.
It is an ethical failure.
“The failure (or refusal) of a leader to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure; because a serious ethical compromise today (when the usual judgment on ethical inadequacy is made) is sometimes the result of a failure to make the effort at an earlier date to foresee today’s events and take the right actions when there was freedom for initiative to act,” Robert writes.
Remember, foresight is the “lead” in leader. Once we lose this “lead” and events begin to force our hand, we are leaders in name only. We are not leading; we are merely reacting to the immediate events. And we probably won’t be a leader for long.
“The action which society labels ‘unethical’ in the present moment is often really one of no choice,” Robert states. “By this standard a lot of guilty people are walking around with an air of innocence that they would not have if society were able always to pin the label ‘unethical’ on the failure to foresee and the consequent failure to act constructively when there was freedom to act.”
Robert wrote The Servant as Leader in 1970. He references examples where “a failure to foresee what reasonably could have been foreseen, and from failure to act on that knowledge while the leader had freedom to act.”
His words ring true today as well.
Lack of foresight and failure to take action when there is still time to prevent oncoming challenges is an ever-present challenge. Writing in the 1500s, Machiavelli said: “Thus it happens in matters of state; for knowing afar off the evils that are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow so that everyone can recognize them, there is no longer any remedy to be found.”
Robert reminds us lack of foresight has real consequences. As servant leaders, we must “cultivate the conditions that favor intuition.”
“And this requires living by a sort of rhythm that encourages a high level of intuitive insight about the whole gamut of events from the indefinite past, through the present moment, to the indefinite future,” writes Robert. “One is as once, in every moment of time, historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet—not three separate roles.”
This mindset is a key element of what it means to be a practicing servant leader.
Reflection: Are there situations in the past where I might have avoided trouble or hardship by using better foresight?
Action: Journal about what I learned from the situation described above.