We’ve all come to accept that things change. But few of us realise that meanings also change with time. For example, there was a time when the phrase “over the hill” referred to a person being irrelevant and no longer playing a role of any importance in the world. If you wanted to criticise someone who no longer appeared to be in touch with latest developments you would say, “Oh, he’s over the hill.”
Today, however, I want to suggest that, for any leader wanting to operate with real strategic foresight, that’s exactly where they need to be – over the hill!
Mountain climbing has long been used as a metaphor for achievement. Nothing portrays success better than the picture of someone at the summit of a mountain peak with arms raised above their head. It’s been said that mountains are meant to be climbed, but let’s imagine that we’re on a journey and we encounter a hill or a mountain. What is your goal? Just to get to the top of the mountain? Not at all. Your plan would be to get to the top of that hill … so you can continue your journey on the other side.
That’s what leaders are meant to do – continue the journey on the other side of the hill. And that’s why they need to be over the hill – ahead of the pack, ahead of their people. Leaders whose thinking is right where their people are, have no means to lead anyone anywhere. They’re in the same space, the same spot, as their people, going nowhere.
A leader who has gone over the hill, ahead of their people, will be a little more familiar with the landscape, the territory they’ve explored, and much better able to create the right environment for their people to perform.
So how do leaders go “over the hill”?
A leader who considers themselves to be an expert who does not need to learn anything more because they think they know what they’re doing, is putting themselves in a very vulnerable position. The word “expertise” is one of those terms that has undergone a change in meaning. In the past, expertise referred to knowing a lot about your field. Today, expertise refers to what you know about your field – up to now. Tomorrow something can happen that makes certain expertise irrelevant.
Experts therefore have to keep learning, not only from the present and the past, but also from the future. Learning from the future is a new concept to many leaders but is becoming increasingly necessary.
Those who take a scientific approach to leadership battle with concepts like anticipation because it’s simply not an evidence-based skill. In the business world, it’s having a sense of what’s going to happen before there is any evidence for the event. If there is evidence, there is no anticipation needed. For example, if it’s announced that something is going to happen tomorrow, you don’t anticipate the event – you simply expect it to happen, because there is a level of certainty. Where there is uncertainty, a leader with anticipation, has a feeling that something is going to happen before the evidence appears. They are therefore much better placed to deal with the event when it happens.
Many leaders talk a big game with regard to innovation but don’t understand what true innovation really is – trying things no-one else has tried before. To do this, leaders have to overcome their fear of failure, because when you try something you’ve never tried before, chances of failure are very high. Those who are not prepared to fail are not prepared to innovate. Fact.
So, leaders, if you are still climbing the hill, you cannot see what’s on the other side. You’re expending a lot of effort and energy just to get to the top of the hill when you instead need to get over the top of the hill as fast as you can by learning, anticipating and innovating.
Any courageous volunteers?
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, and @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches experienced business leaders and Millennial managers how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the “Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter“.