Effective leadership essential Skill #1 – Understand the times

You just have to know what’s going on while it is going on. You have to have some grasp of why it is happening, and you need to understand the implications of what it means for you and your team! You cannot get where you want to go if you do not know where you are! You cannot offer guidance and direction unless you know where you are and have some idea of how to get from here to there. Of course, you could say anyone could see what was going on when the World Trade Center Towers fell. But I dispute this is so.

You cannot effectively address a situation if you do not know the conditions which presently exist and the general mood of the group! In takes genuine skill to be able to see the big picture and all the little scenes that make up the big picture.

It is not always important to know, at the moment of discovery, why something happened. In order to be effective, Mayor Giuliani did not need to know why the planes crashed into the towers or who did it. It was, however, imperative to know what has happened… and what is happening. There will be time for examination of motives and intentions later. Your concern as leader is to understand the times so you can determine what to do next and after that and after that…

Effective leaders are able to simplify complex circumstances, to comprehend a broad range of events and digest them into simple, easier-to-handle components. Leaders must be capable of cutting through the fog, living above the fray, maneuvering around the obstacles. While this skill is particularly acute in times of crisis, it is a skill universally applicable. The principle at work here is called “Line of Sight” and you can read more about it on my blog (www.thepracticalleader.com). In a gist, it says that the higher up the organizational ladder, the farther and broader your range of vision. You have to have two kinds of “sight”:

Insight – the ability to discern the dynamics of any given situation, setting, opportunity, and group.


Outsight – the vision to see the end from the beginning…and the steps in between.

Insight is the capacity to see into a situation, behind the obvious, and underneath the apparent. The ability to be in the know seems to be more inherent and innate than it is acquired. I have observed that while there are techniques one can employ to enhance understanding, you either are an observant discerning person or you are not. However, you would not be reading this unless you have a desire to enhance your leadership ability or have questions about effective leadership.


Outsight is one of the key components that separate leaders from managers. Managers oversee processes. Leaders gather all the many processes together into one comprehensive strategy. Managers may know a step or two, but leaders build the path to the final product.

Outsightedness is often the product of experience and position. Experienced leaders understand how one event or set of circumstances will impact another. They know something about human nature, about conditions and events within organizational structures, and can predict what will most likely happen.

Hand in hand with that is the position one occupies within an organization. The higher up you climb the farther you can see. In nature this is a product of natural sight. In leadership it is too. You can see what’s going on. It is also the product of a sixth sense, an intuition that not only senses what is going on within group or organizational dynamics but senses what the outcome will be. Further, outsighted leaders “see” where they want to go. They can conceptualize and articulate vision.

What do you think? Where have you seen insight become an obvious advantage? How have you been able to apply outsight in your leadership responsibilities?

To learn more about this essential skill, you can get a copy of my book by following the link on the right or clicking here.

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