One of the key traits that differentiate good leaders from other people in the organization is a forward-thinking mindset. The best leaders naturally draw people to be followers. In order to follow, people first need to see that they will be going somewhere and that the path is headed in a positive direction.
Forward thinkers focus on the future and pursue a vision. This doesn’t mean that they are oblivious to the present, but it does mean that they will not be stuck in the present. To the forward thinker, the present is a stepping stone to the future.
Forward thinkers shape the future by making things happen. A leader who is a forward thinker displays the following behaviors:
- They have an open mind. They see possibilities rather than difficulties. They see opportunities rather than problems. The forward thinker is a broad thinker. They are receptive to ideas and input from wherever it might come. They are both watching for and seeking new ideas from various sources.
- They are not trapped by conventional thinking or stuck in the past. The forward thinker questions current practices, frequently asking “why” and “why not”. A forward thinker isn’t trapped by the “not invented here” syndrome and never falls for the answer of “that’s not the way we do things here”.
- They welcome change and accept risk. Forward thinkers go against the natural tendency to maintain status quo. Most people strive to be comfortable. Where others fear change, the forward thinker values change. They are willing to move forward on a path even without knowing all of the answers. They recognize risks and accept possible setbacks as learning experiences.
- They invest in the future. With a focus on the needs of tomorrow, forward thinkers work on self-development. They coach and provide growth experiences for the people around them, knowing that they are building capabilities to be accessed down the road as well as contributing to the career successes of their people.
- They see the bigger picture. Forward thinkers know that details are important, but they see everything in the context of where they are going and what the future holds. They see the complete puzzle of the future, piece by piece.
- They build a vision and stick to it. Forward thinkers gather input and build a shared vision, then they relentlessly drive toward that vision. They over-communicate the vision to keep the team on course.
- They accept responsibility. Because their very nature is to break away from the crowd, forward thinkers have a greater sense of responsibility. They are willing to bear the weight of their decisions and accept the consequences.
- They value teamwork and collaboration. Forward thinkers are focused on the big picture, making them well aware that achievement of the vision is not an individual activity. They rely on their team and therefore share the victories and successes with them.
- They have perseverance. Moving away from the known and into the unknown, the forward thinker has the will to face naysayers and prejudice. They are able to get back on their feet when they get knocked down. Always ready to revise and regroup, they continue to move forward.
Forward thinkers produce energy and excitement in the team that they lead because all of them share in the vision and recognize that they are accomplishing something of significance. The forward thinker’s team is inevitably engaged.
How do people become forward thinkers? Building these nine behaviors into their lives is imperative, but beyond that, they need to spend some time thinking. They should scan the horizon within their organizations, within their industries, and outside of their industries or normal environments. Then they can begin to imagine what could be.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.