Management Minute

My Crystal Ball
By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP

If a big blue genie came out of a lamp and told me I had one wish, I would wish for a crystal ball. Sure, knowing the future would take all the fun out of life but it would definitely make planning AMCHP’s next steps and supporting our members’ work a heck of a lot easier! Can you imagine how powerful it could be to make uncertainty certain? There is so much uncertainty right now that the confidence of knowing the future would be a great comfort, regardless of what it actually meant. At least, it seems sort of attractive to me as we approach what will certainly be a very “interesting” fall.

But alas, I have yet to meet a genie and as such I won’t get my crystal ball after all. What’s a good leader to do instead? Predict it! Think of yourself as a maternal and child health (MCH) weatherman: can we create a set of potential futures that allow us to forecast and plan ahead despite uncertainty and a constant rate of change? Sure, we might be wrong about some things but my guess is that through the process of predicting the future we can better anticipate its outcomes – and “anticipate” is Burnison’s eighth absolute of leadership. That’s interesting to me: as leaders we have to be able to anticipate potential futures and how they will impact the work of our organizations. Vision setting and vision sharing is an important component of leadership. Anticipating the factors that will impact the vision is critical to our role as competent MCH leaders but far too often we react to the future rather than plan, or anticipate, it.

Forecasting the future of MCH sounds like an impossible task or at least a set up for failure and it is true no one can know the future. Or can they? Do we know enough about what has been to predict what might be? I think we can. In fact, I think MCH leaders are in an amazing place to get as close to the certainty of a crystal ball as anyone can. Why? We have data – lots of it – and have been using these data to plan for many, many years (just like the weathermen mentioned above). We have partnerships and those partnerships inform our work and link us to others that help us envision potential futures. We have history, we have been doing this work many, many years and that history influences our thinking about the future. And, we have deep roots in communities, working with families that give us a good sense of current issues and needs in the future. If we put these all together, along with a little intuition, my guess is that we can get pretty close to anticipating the future.

At the AMCHP Board meeting in June, we accomplished just such a “futuring” exercises, sans crystal ball. By developing three potential scenarios and some specific variations we were able to plan possible AMCHP responses to a number of different futures. The result? A robust set of activities and tactics that we will use in positioning AMCHP for the future given the uncertainty in our environment. Currently we are working with the ideas generated by the board to craft our updated Strategic Plan.

So, as a leader, think about how you can “anticipate” the future. What resources do you have to create potential scenarios? And then, what strategic goals and objectives can you develop to align yourselves with those various scenarios? While we cannot predict the future, we can anticipate it. And that is what good leadership is all about.

[This is the eighth installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]