“Let’s wait and watch” – This is one of the most common statements we hear from many when asked about anything futuristic. It’s mainly because no one really knows or can predict the future. However, can leaders afford to have this attitude of waiting? I think not. We live in a dynamic world where things are changing at a hyper-speed. In such situations, to be a successful leader one can’t afford to wait for the change to happen and then adapt. Instead, as a leader you need to be prepared beforehand, anticipate the change and be ready when it arrives.
The important question here is, how can one be prepared for the future when you don’t know what will happen? One approach which has always worked for me is – Learn from the past, know or observe what’s present and accordingly prepare for the future. When I say, having a futuristic mind-set is crucial, it doesn’t mean sitting and predicting the future. It’s all about preparing yourself and your organization for surprises. You shouldn’t be taken aback by the change, but be well-equipped to adapt and lead when the change happens.
Let me explain you this with an example. When Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, no one anticipated that everything around us will come to a standstill, movement will be restricted and offices will be shut. However, for us we were able to seamlessly transition the entire company into the new way of working without much impact on our operations. We were able to serve our customers and it was business as usual. Why was this possible? Not because I predicted that a pandemic will happen, but because of our desire to be ahead of the curve in terms of making a difference to the customer experience. For this, being digitally equipped was an absolute norm. We didn’t think that being at the forefront of digitization would help us when the pandemic came around. But yes, being prepared and observing trends definitely helped us. Hence, when the pandemic hit, instead of getting disrupted, we easily moulded ourselves and led during the change.
How was I able to prepare myself for this? It was by keeping an open mind and exploring the possibilities. And these are not the possibilities of what could happen in the next few weeks or in a year, but thinking about various scenarios that could happen in next 2 years, 5 years or even more. Thinking long term helps you make the right choices for the present and prepare yourself for the future. Most of us do so quite often when we are making some huge investment or when we think about our career growth. For instance, when choosing a particular field while studying you may have thought of how will I grow and build my career or when you are buying a home, you think about the development that might happen in the area which may affect the place where you might buy the house or how over the years the value of your house might increase if you buy it now. You need to use a similar approach as a leader when you make decisions.
While you’re exploring the possible scenarios to make a decision, ask yourself the right questions. Why a particular situation will arrive? Is this the only thing that can happen or anything else that might happen instead of it or along with it? What are the things that will lead for it to happen? What can I do now if it happens or doesn’t happen? What can I do to lead it when it happens? Asking these questions for various situations can help you explore possibilities and prepare yourself in a better manner. Moreover, while you’re exploring the possible scenarios, don’t forget to observe what’s happening around in the horizon and current trends that have the potential to affect the future. Wherever I am or whatever I do, one thing which I ensure as a routine is read about the industry (both within the country and outside) and other industries as general insurance is closely linked to other industries like manufacturing, automobile, etc. Additionally, I am constantly in touch with my people on field or agents who are associated with the company to know what’s happening on the ground level. Lastly and more importantly, it’s important to know that leadership is not about sitting comfortably in your cabin and listening to the views of your employees, consultants, etc. It most often means getting your hands dirty and going on the ground, finding out the truth and in many cases demonstrating to your team on how things are done, if they’re unable to do so and leading the way. Doing so, helps me know what’s happening around me, what’s happening on the competitors’ space and what’s changing. Thus, enabling me to be prepared and know what I can do if a particular change happens.
One more thing which I believe separates great leaders from good leaders is that they create an environment where they’re able to steer the future. You can be a bystander and observe when the future arrives. But, true leaders are those who understand what should be done in the future and steer the industry, their organization, their team in that direction. Thus, creating benchmarks within their industry for others to follow.
Cultivating a futuristic mind-set doesn’t happen overnight. You need to practice it constantly by learning, being inquisitive and more importantly being open to the unknown. I’m sure if you embrace the unknown, learn to adapt to the constantly changing world around us and are aware about your surroundings, you’ll gradually be prepared for what awaits. Many of us feel that when we are in a comfortable position, we have grown enough by doing everything we aspired to do. That’s really not the case. I feel that successful leaders are those who look at future as a moving target, keep evolving, put themselves out of the comfort zone and look at the future as a fluid state, rather than a solid state which you need to reach and once you have reached there, everything is achieved. Hence, being a leader with futuristic mind-set is not about predicting the future, but learning from everything around you and your experiences, making the future, getting there and by the time you have achieved what you intended to, your next target/future is already defined and you move ahead in that direction.