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Forward Thinking

Forward Thinking is anticipating the implications and consequences of situations and taking appropriate action to be prepared for possible contingencies.
An employee demonstrating this competency:
  • Anticipates possible problems and develops contingency plans in advance
  • Notices trends in the industry or marketplace and develops plans to prepare for opportunities or problems
  • Anticipates the consequences of situations and plans accordingly
  • Anticipates how individuals and groups will react to situations and information and plans accordingly
Importance of this Competency
By using this competency, you will be able to notice and take advantage of opportunities, especially ones arising out of trends in the marketplace. You will also be more effective at gaining and maintaining people’s support, because you will accurately anticipate and be prepared for their reactions to new information and to organizational changes. In a rapidly changing organization and marketplace, Forward Thinking is essential.
General Considerations in Developing this Competency
There are no special skills required to use this competency. Since Forward Thinking requires good information about the people you work with, about your organization, and about your industry and marketplace, you will need to develop and maintain access to these kinds of information. Maintain a network of contacts who can keep you informed about developments in the organization, industry and marketplace. Talk regularly to the people with whom you work, to understand their interests, concerns, and motivations.

Develop the habit of anticipating what will happen, especially how other individuals will react to situations and information. Make plans based on what you anticipate.

This competency is closely related to two other competencies: Interpersonal Awareness and Diagnostic Information Gathering. Developing those two competencies is likely to help develop Forward Thinking.
Practicing this Competency
  • Read trade publications and industry journals to identify trends that may affect your company, department or unit.
  • Develop and maintain a network of contacts, both inside and outside of your organization, with whom you can discuss developments in your industry and marketplace.
  • Over a two-week period, take notes on how individuals with whom you work - your boss, your coworkers, your direct reports - react to situations and information. Note patterns for each individual.
  • When you are planning a project, anticipate possible problems that could occur at each step, and have a contingency plan ready in case each problem develops. It is often useful to do this with other project team members.
  • The next time you have potentially surprising or distressing news for someone, try to anticipate how this person will react. Identify what you can do in presenting this information to minimize undesired reactions.
Obtaining Feedback
After managing a project or event, ask others who were involved for feedback about what you could have anticipated and planned for.
Learning from Experts
When you are planning a complex project, ask someone strong in Forward Thinking to review the plan with you and to help identify and plan for possible problems.

Volunteer to work on a project team headed by someone strong in Forward Thinking. Observe what this person does to anticipate and plan for solutions to possible problems.
Coaching Suggestions for Managers
If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop the compentency, you can:
  • Model Forward Thinking in your interactions with this person, by sharing your own thinking about possible problems and about the likely effect of information and events on others.
  • When assigning a project to this person, ask him or her to think of possible problems and plan ways to address these problems.
  • Assign this person to a task force or team headed by someone who is strong in Forward Thinking.
  • Ask the person to read trade journals or industry publications and to bring ideas about opportunities arising from developments in the marketplace.
Sample Development Goals
By January 17, I will review the project plan for Link Net, identify possible problems or risks associated with each task, and prepare contingency plans to address the problems.

By February 12, I will read the last year’s issues of the most important trade journal in my field and make a list of possible opportunities for our organization, based on market and industry trends.

By February 29, I will ask the Axle Replacement Team to give me feedback on the degree to which I demonstrated Forward Thinking in the project plan.


Five Minds for the Future, by Howard Gardner. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2009.

Succession: Are You Ready?, by Marshall Goldsmith. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

The Art of Original Thinking: The Making of a Thought Leader, by Jan Phillips. San Diego, CA: 9th Element Press, 2006.

The Forward-Focused Organization: Visionary Thinking and Breakthrough Leadership to Create Your Company's Future, by Stephen C. Harper. New York, NY: ANACOM, 2001.

What I Learned from Frogs in Texas: Saving Your Skin with Forward-Thinking Innovation, by Jim Carroll. Canada: Oblio Press, 2004.


Self-Study Course

How to Manage Your Priorities. American Management Association. Tel. 800 250-5308. http://www.amaselfstudy.org/course.cfm?isbn=9780761214649&page=TOC



Business and Human Resources: Leading HR and Your Organization into the Future. Five  Days. Society for Human Resource Management. Tel 800 862-3932. http://www.shrm.org/Education/seminar/Pages/unc.aspx

Creativity and Innovation: Unleash Your Potential for Greater Success. Two days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. www.amanet.org/seminars/seminar.cfm?BaseSemNo=02208

Crisis Leadership Workshop. One Week. United States Office of Personnel Management.. Tel 202 606-1800. https://www.leadership.opm.gov/Programs/Skill-Immersion/CMS/Index.aspx

Strategic Decision Making for Leaders. Two days. Kepner-Tregoe. Tel. 800-537-6378 http://www.kepner-tregoe.com/TheKTWay/WorkingWithKT-TeachYou-SDM.cfm

Taking on Greater Responsibility: Step-Up Skills for Non-managers. Two days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. http://www.amanet.org/training/seminars/Taking-on-Greater-Responsibility-Step-up-Skills-for-Nonmanagers.aspx



See Appendix