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At the intersection of leadership, strategy & foresight

To create plans with survivability, it may not be enough to be flexible and creative


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The following is excerpted from “22 on 2022: A police leadership playbook.” Click here to download the playbook.

Far too often, police leaders spend considerable time developing strategic plans and then suffer as the future becomes the present, derailing the plan to tend to crises, unexpected events and circumstances that evolve in ways the plan hadn’t anticipated. Of course, any plan is nothing more than a structured guess at what the actual future might look like; and, paraphrasing military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Since plans often become outdated or useless, and since planning itself is essential, how do we plan, and then abandon plans as circumstances dictate?

To create plans with survivability, it may not be enough to be flexible and creative – you want to assess both your own capabilities and wishes, as well as the environment within which you will work. One way to do that is to incorporate foresight into the front end of any planning effort, and then use a process of scanning for events, trends and drivers on a persistent basis to develop the adaptability needed to thrive in an ever-changing environment.


The graphic demonstrates how to assess your capabilities to improve your change capacity. Each term (leadership, strategy and foresight) is complex; they have differing definitions and practices as they are applied. For our purposes, leadership is the formal and informal means of motivating, directing and managing the work. Strategy entails the vision, planning and securing of assets for the work. Foresight is a process of “looking ahead” to identify issues that may impact plans and the intended work of the organization. For each of the three capabilities, it is how they interact that can create a foundation for the future:

  • If you’re strong in leadership and strategy, you’ll be good making plans for the “official future.” Since that future rarely occurs, though, plans often fail due to a lack of imagination and anticipation.
  • At the overlap of leadership and foresight, you identify issues coming at you, but may not have the structures in place to address them in useful ways.
  • Without leadership guiding the work, foresight & strategy will create options and opportunities, although the power of Leadership may not be strong enough to act.
  • Finally, the intersection of all three capabilities lies the Informed Future. Plans can be focused, yet responsive to emerging circumstances. Leadership can guide the collision of intended change with reality to avoid obstacles along the way.

If you are strong in one or two skill areas, strengthen them while developing competence in the weaker areas. No matter where you are now, though, foresight can lead strategy. Without it, any plan may be more wishful thinking than template for success.

Bob Harrison is a retired police chief who is an adjunct researcher with the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation. He is also a course manager for the CA POST Command College. Bob consults with police agencies in California and beyond on strategy, leadership and innovation. He holds a Postgraduate Degree in Business Strategy & Innovation from the University of Oxford, and master’s degrees from two U.S. universities.

Lt. Thomas Kelly and another officer were shot while executing a search warrant in 2010
“I think there’s a potential for danger,” Sheriff Vern Warnke said. “I think there’s a chance for our criminal element to grasp what’s going on”
“This was a very dynamic, dangerous and fluid event, and all officers were focused on safely apprehending the fleeing suspect,” Chief Steve Mylett stated
“We need our legislators and elected officials to revisit this and raise the penalties for this, because it is so dangerous,” a PD official said