Jan 29 2021| Leadership

Anticipation, Awareness and Action

The power of evasive action

by Phil Eyre Founder


In 2021, I will be continuing my leadership series of articles in Business Brief magazine. In my first feature of the year, I explore anticipation, awareness and action and explain how these three things will help leaders to thrive in the year ahead.


“Expect the unexpected” is a phrase I’ve always found troubling. It’s an oxymoron and can lead to wild speculation, faulty theories and assertions of belief-as-fact that can distract us from critical here-and-now issues.


Yet if I’ve learned anything from the last 12 months, it’s that - despite all our efforts to create stability and predictability - the world we live in is essentially uncertain. And that great leadership embraces uncertainty, anticipates the unlikely and challenges conventional presumptions.


A key factor in determining leadership quality is anticipation: the ability to understand and sense trouble ahead and then take preemptive action. We talk about “getting ahead of the curve”, redeploying resources ahead of time and evading failure.


In our work, “awareness” is one of a number of skills that we measure when working with leaders and teams. Consistently, it’s the weakest of the core skills we look for. Worse, we often discover high scores in the counter-productive equivalent - bravado or denial about problems brewing. This can be spotted by a dismissive “we can deal with anything” attitude.


In our experience, many leaders in the Channel Islands are far more comfortable solving problems than anticipating them; ignoring the smoke alarm and then fighting the fire. This is a recipe for inefficiency and stress. To be better than this, leaders need to hone their anticipation skills:


  • Consider words like “never” and “always” as a prompt to challenge your beliefs and those of your team. Less than a year ago, a CEO we work with said that they would “never” have everyone working from home. Two months later, everyone was working from home (and productivity leapt). Deliberately invite people to challenge your assumptions. If your non-executive directors (NEDs) aren’t doing this, find new NEDs.


  • Beware of an over-reliance on past data when making decisions about the future. The past is always fascinating; we can identify far more easily with what’s been before than what we’ve not yet experienced. Whilst history can help to inform our thinking, it’s rarely as robust a guide for the future as we think.


When in wealth management, I remember some highly contrived products being pitched to us which would deliver decent returns only if certain markets performed within their historic norms; outside of those norms, the product would fail. Thankfully we passed on these; most failed.


  • Build a congregation around your biggest challenges. We talk so much about collaboration that it’s lost its power. We need to surround ourselves with people who are energised and excited about helping us to solve our problems. Drawing our best customers, suppliers, supportive shareholders and others to congregate around the issue is a constructive - and exciting - way to solve and move forward.


  • Learn to improvise. “Improv” comedians are a delight to watch. It’s not that they’re unprepared. In fact, the best improv performers are exceptionally well prepared with their core material. The improvisation is in applying that material to the unanticipated situation thrown at them.


The principle is the same for leaders: know your fundamentals, why your company exists, your core value-adds, how you delight others. When the unexpected happens, draw on these core strengths as you improvise. You’ll find that this improv attitude frees you from the constraint of the “how we must do things” mindset, enabling you to focus your attention on the real problem to solve, not just the immediate operational issue.


Whilst we might not be able to define specifically the “unexpected”, we can - and must - prepare ourselves for it. This is a year to prepare to be surprised.


About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

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