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Looking Back to See the Future

One of my favorite historical people is Winston Churchill. I’ve read a number of books about his life and leadership.

One of the most amazing qualities I’ve found about him was his uncanny ability to see into the future and articulate it.

Most of us know of his predictions concerning the rise of Nazism in Germany in the early 1930’s and the impact it would have on Europe. Yet the one visionary statement that I’ve found even more remarkable was his prediction of the fall of communism.

In 1953, at the height of the cold war, he told his assistant John Colville that if Colville lived a normal life span that he would assuredly see Eastern Europe free of Communism. His normal life span would put him alive well into the 1980’s exactly when Communism fell in Eastern Europe.

That ability to see and articulate the future would qualify for as a visionary by anyone’s standards.

One other interesting quality of Churchill I’ve admired was his love of history. He wrote a number of historical books including the monumental The History of the English – Speaking Peoples.

Is it possible that because Churchill was a student of history that he was also a visionary?

In Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge they write “When we gaze first into our past, we elongate our future. We also enrich our future and give it detail as we recall the richness of our past experiences. So, to be able to envision the possibilities of a distant future, to enhance your ability to be forward-looking, look first into your past.”

Kouzes & Posner also cite a study by Omar A El Sawy from the University of Southern California which looked at the ability of two groups of CEO’s to envision the future.

One group clearly could articulate a distant future and one could not.

What was the difference between the two groups? The group that looked deepest into the future was the group that looked first and farther back into their pasts.

Think about that for a moment, the ability for a CEO or anyone to see into the future begins with looking into history including one’s own past.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly why Churchill became a visionary.

And as a leader, if I’m to have vision, I need to challenge myself to be a student of my personal history, the history of the organization I’m leading as well as history in general without becoming its slave. It’s within the context of history that I can begin to have vision for my life, my family and the ministry I’m entrusted with.

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