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Dr Valerie Stewart’s FarSighted Leadership Competencies

The FarSighted Leadership approach has been developed by Dr Valerie Stewart based on her extensive experience working with leaders throughout the world. The copyright for all FarSighted Leadership materials and concepts is owned by Dr Valerie Stewart.

FarSighted Leadership involves:
Scenario Building ability: the capacity to generate multiple possible outcomes from the current situation. These outcomes should each be reasonably coherent, and if possible their relative probabilities should be estimated.

(The direct analogy is with chess. After seven moves there are more than 10 million possible positions; there are forty possible positions after just two moves. Good chess players develop ways of encoding what they see on the board – typically, they can remember legitimate positions but do no better than chance when shown a random unlawful scatter. FarSighted leaders similarly learn to read, encode, and transmit the complex patterns in their environment).

The skill of scenario building is buttressed by two types of scanning at the extremes, viz:Sensitivity to Danger: as various scenarios unfold and/or new information presents itself, the capacity to predict and/or detect the circumstances that are likely to cause catastrophic failure or at least to carry an unacceptable downside risk.

(This requires a detachment from one’s own optimism, which can be difficult when pursuing an attractive goal. At the very least, it involves envisaging the graceful failure mode when developing scenarios, but when the skill is properly developed FarSighted Leaders confront the brutal facts wherever and whenever they appear).

Alertness to Opportunity: with unfolding scenarios and/or new information, the capacity to predict when circumstances will offer quantitative or qualitative advances in what is possible.

(This echoes the original definition of an entrepreneur as one who moves resources from areas of low productivity to areas of high productivity).

When Scenario Building, Sensitivity to Danger, and Alertness to Opportunity are all well-developed, leaders are especially sensitive to times when what is needed is more of the same and when what is needed is something different. They are also alert for Black Swans (The term ‘Black Swan’ [Nicholas Taleb] summarises his observation that we are conditioned to focus on the average/mean/normal and that we are unreasonably surprised by the inevitability of the unexpected.). Other people envy them for having a good sense of timing – a skill which is otherwise difficult to analyse.

These three attributes characterise FarSighted information-gathering. It may sometimes appear to have a disturbingly dispassionate quality, as with the trader who forward-bought potatoes within minutes of hearing about Chernobyl, the traders who make millions betting against a falling currency, etc.

The next two attributes distinguish the armchair general/Monday morning quarterback from the person who sets out to make a difference to the world:

Judgement: the ability and willingness to decide on a course of action. It’s important to be able to articulate – and therefore to defend and/or negotiate – a coherent frame of reference underlying one’s judgements; it’s also important to be aware of, and to seek to transcend, the limits of bounded rationality.

(This recognises that human affairs are rarely decided purely by logic; that almost every situation contains competing priorities as well as imperfect information. However, having a coherent framework for analysis is the first step in being able to negotiate frameworks; this is an essential attribute of mature FarSightedness).

Drive for Results: the intrinsic need to make a difference, coupled with the energy to deliver the chosen result.

(The combination of Judgement and Drive for Results underlies the delivery of extraordinary results).

Think of the first three attributes as the sail, and the latter two as the rudder. Both are necessary for the journey. But the journey is not made in a void; there is always a context. When the context is a business, an enterprise, an institution, FarSighted Leaders need local knowledge and wider perspectives:

Local Knowledge: the aptitudes needed to fulfil one’s role in the organisation, coupled with sensitivity to the context (social, political, economic, structural, etc) influencing perceived success.

(Aptitudes – technical/specialist skills, financial skills, communication and interpersonal skills; how these skills are exercised is modified by the choices, demands, and constraints implicit – or explicit – in the organisation’s culture).

Wider Perspective: regular scanning of the environment (social, political, economic, etc.) in which the organisation makes its living. Especially, this includes any changes in the opportunities and priorities of the organisation’s stakeholders (owners, employees, customers, etc.) together with changes in the wider ecosystem that are likely to affect the organisation’s equilibrium.

(This leads amongst other things to a healthy scepticism about traditional metrics, as exemplified by the manufacturer of lock-gate furniture whose market share kept increasing until he became insolvent. It also implies the ability to detect when the means to an end become the end in itself – again, one component of the skill of timing).

The summary so far is silent on the differences between vice and virtue. A dispassionate analysis that did not recognise what it costs always to have to use power over other people might remain silent, but we hope to be better than that – and there is a good deal of objective research demonstrating the value of community, of coöperation, and of keeping one’s promises. Therefore, notwithstanding the occasional difficulties implicit in describing what is true, just, and lovely, the ideal is:
Honest, Ethical, and Trustworthy: commitment to truthfulness and openness, to fairness and justice; from these follow responsibility and accountability.

Finally, and because no man is an island entire of itself:
Power to Inspire: the skill of energising and strengthening other people in the achievement of shared goals. It implies an internal locus of control, and the ability to manage the impression one creates (especially in times of doubt or crisis). It also implies the ability to assess and develop other people’s talents, capabilities, and potential.