By: John Jenkins, SVP Finance Operations and Business, Valassis Digital
Published Monday, Nov 14, 2016
“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” – Norman Cousins
When we come together in the workplace to reflect on our team, we often consider how we can continue to strive for excellence. Proactive anticipation and action are critical to achieving this goal. ESP would be nice, but in the absence of that we need to think about and plan for the future, not just react to the decisions immediately in front of us. Consider the potential benefits and consequences of a decision and extend that thinking four or five steps down the line. A focus on the future helps us see things coming – requests from a client, the direction a leader may want to take an organization, changes to the market, etc. – and keeps us on our toes vs. back on our heels.
In light of the passing of Muhammad Ali, we can learn a tremendous amount from his career to help our teams continue on a successful trajectory. As a boxer, Ali anticipated his opponents’ moves and prepared for the next punch, which allowed him to out-maneuver them. He could see punches coming, then bob and weave out of their way. His opponents were not as good at anticipation. They didn’t see him coming and often got blindsided and knocked out! How does this translate to the workplace? – No, I’m not advocating boxing in the office! Anticipating the future allows you to expect the next request from a client, prepare for that request and proactively offer solutions rather than react and scramble. It enables us to formulate a much better response and helps us control the next steps of the relationship.
While anticipating the future is the first step to help drive success, expecting consequences and creating opportunity is an important next step since it helps improve the problem solving process. Here’s an example of how this works: when a teammate has a question, we often react with an immediate answer. However, the issue is that your teammate is trying to solve a problem – not just gather information. Further, the silver lining of every problem is that there’s an opportunity to create value. So, rather than start a back and forth of trading answers for questions, ask yourself, “what’s the problem they are trying to solve and how can we use this to improve the situation?” By identifying an opportunity along with helping to solve the problem, you can add value to the problem-solving process by utilizing your unique business acumen. Ali knew the importance of consequences and opportunities. He did not just anticipate what his opponent would do. He knew what would happen as a result of his own actions. When he threw a punch, it wasn’t just a counter punch – it was an opportunity to help him succeed.
Anticipating the future and the benefits of our actions are necessary habits for success, but they rely on the foundation of sound preparation. If we are prepared, we are ready to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. This type of proactive leadership requires ongoing planning for the future – thinking through various contingencies, brainstorming potential outcomes and developing tactics that allow us to be opportunistic. A little more prep work upfront typically results in a much better outcome in the end. We see this in our work just as Ali saw it in the ring – being prepared and planning ahead enabled him to beat his competitors to the punch.
To create an excellent working environment, best support our clients and constantly be on the cutting edge, we must anticipate the future and expect potential consequences of our and others’ actions to prepare for new opportunities. This mindset is what elevates us as leaders in business and makes each of us better leaders for our team.
In short, this mindset ensures our collective success!