At the Intersection of Leadership, Strategy, and Foresight


Dec 28, 2021

Rear view of two police officers patrolling a local neighborhood, photo by kali9/Getty Images

Photo by kali9/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared in Police1 on December 27, 2021.

Police leaders spend considerable time developing strategic plans, only to suffer as unexpected events and circumstances evolve in ways the plan hadn't anticipated. To create survivable plans, you must assess your capabilities and the environment within which you work. To do so, incorporate foresight to develop the adaptability necessary to thrive.

Figure 1 demonstrates how to improve your change capacity. Each term (leadership, strategy, and foresight) is complex; they all have differing definitions and practices. For our purposes, leadership is the motivation, direction, and management of the work. Strategy entails the vision, planning, and securing assets. Foresight is “looking ahead” to identify issues that may impact plans and the intended work. For each capability, it is how they interact that can create a foundation for the future:

Figure 1

Triangular image with arrows at the ends of each side. The top has the text “Leadership: motivation, direction, and management.” The bottom right has the text “Strategy: vision, planning, and securing assets.” The bottom left has the text “Foresight: looking ahead to identify issues.” The side between Leadership and Strategy has the text “'OFFICIAL' FUTURE.” The side between Strategy and Foresight has the text “OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE.” The side between Leadership and Foresight has the text “POSSIBLE FUTURES.” In the center of the triangle is the text “INFORMED FUTURE.”

  • If you're strong in leadership and strategy, you'll be good at making plans for the “official future.” Since that future rarely occurs, plans often fail.
  • At the overlap of leadership and foresight, you can identify issues coming at you, but may not have the structures in place to address them in useful ways.
  • Without leadership, foresight and strategy will create options that result in creativity, not innovation.
  • The intersection of all three is the informed future. Plans are focused, yet responsive to change. Leadership guides the collision of intent with reality to avoid obstacles along the way.

If you are strong in one or two areas, develop competence in the weaker ones. No matter what, foresight should lead strategy. Without it, any plan is more wishful thinking than a template for success.

Bob Harrison is a retired police chief who manages the CA POST Command College, and is an adjunct researcher with the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

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