Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead

Navigating Change

Studies show that the companies that navigate change well last the longest.

Why do some corporate leaders navigate through massive change while others seem oblivious to it?

How do you position your organization ahead of the trends?

Is it possible to learn to anticipate and prepare for the future?


Rob-Jan De Jong is a speaker, consultant and faculty member at Wharton’s executive program on Global Strategic Leadership. His new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, outlines what it takes to become a visionary leader. Sharing examples and principles from his research, Rob-Jan’s mission is to increase your personal visionary capacity.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him about vision and the art of looking ahead.


“Anyone can grow their visionary capacity.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


3 Keys to Unleashing Vision at All Levels

As a CEO, I just loved this sentence:  “Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.”  It’s really something for everyone, not only those with a title.  How do corporate leaders unleash creativity and vision at all levels of the organization?

  1. Empowerment and trust. 

An important success factor is around empowerment and trust.  A directive company culture is detrimental for people’s engagement.  Having a sense of influence is a prerequisite for getting people to become involved in the hard work of engaging with uncertainty and anticipating the future.


“Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


  1. Fault Tolerance.

A second critical factor is fault tolerance. This naturally goes with empowerment – people will get it right and every so often they will get it wrong. These are the important moments of truth for you as the leader, as your response will set the standard for the culture that shapes from these moments. People will be on the lookout about how serious you are about empowerment. My simple suggestion is to not focus on what went wrong but to focus on what the person has learned.


“Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


  1. Enabling Others.

And a third factor that should not be underestimated is that you will also need to enable your people to do this. Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset. And it is often a step aside from the environment people have grown accustomed to, so you will need to enable your people to strengthen themselves in this area.

That might sound like blatant promotion for my work and my book, but I’m absolutely convinced that this has been a gap in management theory.  Despite the widely acknowledged importance of ‘vision’ in leadership, little – if any – systematic support has been provided in terms of developing your visionary side as a leader in a responsible way.  Scholars, business schools and strategy textbooks agree that a vision is one of the most powerful instruments a leader can have.  And how you go about developing this side of your leadership has been met with tremendous silence.

It was my intention to fill part of this gap by offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic, original ideas, a developmental framework, various practices, and many stories and anecdotes to draw lessons from.


“Vision, the hallmark of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheets and more a product of the mind called imagination.” –Abraham Zaleznik


Learning to Be Visionary

How to Create an Extraordinary Workplace

The Best Place to Work

How do you create an extraordinary workplace?

How do you turn a group of strangers into a community of friends?

Why should a company pay people to play?


Usually, when I read advance copies of book manuscripts, I wait to talk about the book until it is released.  In this case, I couldn’t help but talk about this book for the last few months at conferences. Now that it is finally available, I am excited to introduce Ron Friedman’s new book The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.



For your chance to receive a free copy of Dr. Friedman’s new book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, do any of the following:

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If you want to build a winning culture and encourage collaboration, this book provides a blueprint.  If you are designing a new office space or updating an old one, this book is a must read.  But what surprised me most about this book is the many insights it provides for leaders at all levels.  If you want to be promoted at work, you will want to read this book and follow its guidelines.  And, as a CEO who is privileged enough to lead an organization that regularly hits the Best Places to Work in IT list, I can tell you this book gave me numerous ideas.

The book’s author, Ron Friedman, PhD, recently answered my questions about his research and work. He is a psychologist and the founder of Ignite80, a management consultancy to help leaders build extraordinary workplaces.


Research: You can predict employee satisfaction by the amount of sunlight entering their floor.


3 Ways to Improve Space

From a workplace design perspective, what are the top 3 ways to improve space for a positive impact?

BPTW Cover 1The most important principle is design with the end in mind. Think carefully about the tasks your employees are going to be doing and provide a space that empowers them to do their work more effectively. At many companies, people are placed in the identical work environments regardless of their job function, and this is a missed opportunity. It’s why so many people feel that they need to come in early or stay late to get any work done.

A second consideration is encouraging people to personalize their workspace. In The Best Place to Work I talk about organizations like Etsy and DreamWorks that provide their employees with a budget for customizing their workspace when they first join.  It’s a wise strategy.  When we have the freedom to shape our environment, we experience a sense of personal control.  One study found that people are over 30% more effective when they’re encouraged to personalize their workspace.


Research: People are over 30% more productive when they personalize their workspace.


A third recommendation is to invest in informal social spaces, like outdoor picnic tables or a café-like break room. The idea is to encourage colleagues to get together, even when they’re not talking about work. Workplace friendships are vital to our performance, and lasting friendships aren’t established when we’re in formal meetings.


Paid to Play?

One of your chapters says that we should be paid to play. You say that the childlike manner of play can improve our creativity. How can we use play and exercise to improve our workplace?

There’s a business case for giving employees the flexibility they need to exercise. Over the last decade, scientists have uncovered a range of benefits from regular workouts that extend far beyond being healthy or looking good. Exercise, research tells us, can also make us more effective at work.

Leading Culture Change Starts At Home

It Starts at Home

We talk about corporate and organizational culture every day.  The culture of an organization can make or break a company.  “Culture trumps strategy” is a quote attributed to different people, but the idea is clear.

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” -Confucius


If success at work is rooted in culture, why do we ignore it at home?  All homes have unwritten rules, social mores, and patterns of behavior.  In fact, the behavior at home may be much more difficult to change than at work.

How would you define the culture of your home?  Safe, encouraging, and positive?  Or critical, tense, and exhausting?

Take the time to think about your environment at home and whether it is contributing to your family’s success.  And think about how your culture at home impacts your work.


“Culture trumps strategy.” -Unknown


Assess it.

Sit down with your family or roommates and define the present culture.  This may not be easy.  It requires listening.  In many cases, a third party may be required to gain an objective view.  If it is too challenging, skip this step and focus on what you want it to be.  If you live alone, you’re not excused.  You still have a culture to describe.

Determine what you want it to be.

What type of culture you want to create requires thoughtful planning.  Define it together.  This should be a positive exercise.

Develop plans to close the gap. 

You will immediately see where there are gaps between the current and desired cultures.  Spend time thinking about ways that will move you in the direction you want to go.

Set rules.

The Dangers of Always Trying To Be Right At Work

In a previous post, I shared how the joy of being right can often be wrong.  Trying to be right at all costs comes at a surprisingly high price.

  • We waste time and energy.
  • We damage relationships.
  • We refuse to listen to the other side.
  • We cause others to stop sharing freely.
  • We stop listening as we develop arguments.


“Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.” –Richard Carlson


For all of those reasons and more, being right is not always worth the cost.

When you are right, what happens?  Others applaud your brilliance!  They nod to you as you pass them in the hall.  A gleaming trophy arrives for your new corner office, allowing everyone to know that you are “RIGHT.”

Ah, no. Not exactly.  Pretty much none of that happens.

It’s far better to allow others to be right.  Let little offenses pass.  Save the disagreements for the big things.


“Celebrating accomplishments is one of the fastest ways to change a culture.” -Skip Prichard


That’s my advice for individuals.  It happens in organizations, too.  When an entire organizational culture is centered on being “right,” what happens then?

You will find a culture:

With more meetings. Instead of having a conversation about an issue, everyone works hard to be correct.  That means that there are meetings to prepare for meetings to prepare for meetings.

With longer meetings.  Everyone needs time to share the “right” point of view.  Everyone needs the microphone to prove her point or to highlight his knowledge.  And we need time to point out the flaws in everyone else.

How to Overcome Leadership Blindspots


When you first learn to drive, do you remember learning about blind spots?  The driving instructor likely emphasized it repeatedly.

I can remember my driving instructor saying, “Check your blind spot before you change lanes.  Your life depends on it and so does mine!”

They are called blind spots for a reason.  They are not visible, not readily apparent, and are easily missed.

Author Robert Bruce Shaw has just released a new book called Leadership Blindspots.  I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his new book and the challenges facing leaders.


A blindspot is an unrecognized weakness or threat that has the potential to undermine a leader’s success.


The Need For An Early Warning System


“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” –Jonathan Swift


You discuss the balancing act that all leaders face.  That is the need to be both supremely confident and yet also see situations accurately with no distortion.  It’s always easy to look in the rear view mirror and judge leaders, but how does a leader know early enough to change course?Robert Bruce Shaw

Leaders need warning systems that signal trouble ahead.  Savvy leaders, for example, have a group of trusted advisors whose role, in part, is to surface vulnerabilities that a leader may overlook.  Or, some leaders assign “sentinels” to track data on emerging competitive threats and report out periodically on what they are finding.  I also describe in the book ongoing leadership practices that are useful in seeing threats early in the game, such as having regular contact with customers and front-line colleagues.  These techniques don’t tell a leader if and when to change course – but they provide the information needed to make that decision. 


Levels of Blindness


You have a chapter on this, but I want to ask:  How do you spot a blindspot if you are blind to it?

Keep in mind that there are levels of blindness.  There are times when leaders are completely blindsided by a weakness or threat and other situations when they are partially aware of a weakness or threat but fail to understand its potential impact or the need for action.  That said, you can simply ask a few people who know you well if they think you have any blindspots.  You then probe in specific areas as needed – for example, blindspots in how you view your own leadership team or the capabilities of your organization.  Ask for specific examples in each area they identify.  Another approach is to examine the mistakes you have made over your career and look for patterns in the causes of those mistakes.  If repeated over time, mistakes are valuable in pointing to an unrecognized weakness that will most likely surface again in the future.


Blindspots always come with a price.



Critical Leadership Skill:  Peripheral Vision

Seeing what others miss—what you call peripheral vision—is a critical leadership skill.  What techniques help improve a leader’s peripheral vision?