Life is just plain easier when you can see what’s ahead of you. Some leaders clearly have poor vision – their most polished skill seems to be running into brick walls.

Other leaders simply possess adequate vision – they avoid the obvious speed bumps, but fail to stand out from the crowd. Then there are those leaders who possess legendary vision – the rare few who can see around corners. What you may not realize is that everyone can learn to see around corners, and it’s not as hard as you think.

In my new book, Hacking Leadership (Wiley), I share my thought the best view of the future is found through the lens of the people. To understand the future, one must truly, deeply, and richly understand people. People are the key to the future. It’s the people who make today’s decisions (good and bad) that pave the path into the future. If you want to predict the future, you must become very good at understanding and engaging people of influence. Sure, go ahead and study business, but if you don’t master the study of people, all the business knowledge in the world won’t help.

The Magician’s Trick

A magic show is not real magic, but merely an elaborate illusion. Magicians simply know something you don’t – how the trick works. This premise holds true with visionary business leaders as well – they’ve learned the tricks of their trade that others have yet to master. Great leaders can connect dots that seem disconnected to others. Let me be clear; good leadership isn’t a form of hocus-pocus, it’s simply something to be learned. Will you do what it takes to learn your craft?

Understanding Motivations

You’ll never understand a person until you know what motivates them. To predict the future you must be able to reasonably predict the actions of people, so you must understand their motivations. Motivation often tells the tale of a person’s credibility, influence and effectiveness. One of the first things I like to understand when working with a leader is what drives them. Their motivations speak to who they are, what they value, how they work, and why they do what they do.

Seeing Through the Rhetoric

There’s a reason for the old axiom “talk is cheap” – it’s true. More important than what a person says is what they do. If you really want to understand what a leader believes at their core, observe the decisions they make (or don’t make), the relationships they value (or don’t value), the courage they display (or fail to display), and the challenges they accept (or walk away from). To listen is good, to watch is important, but to understand is essential. There is no reason to be surprised by people’s behavior unless you’ve failed to observe it.

Look for the Signs

Few things will help discern the future of a career, project, product, or company like taking a close look into the character and commitment of the people driving them. Look into any leadership failure, and upon even the most cursory examination, you’ll find indications of failure were everywhere well in advance of the event itself.  The signs of success and failure are always clearly visible to those who look. Visionary leaders see the reality of a situation, event, or circumstance. They refrain from the common delusion of seeing what they choose to see and base their actions/decisions based on a realistic interpretation of the signs.

Changing the Future

Learn your business, and become very intentional about developing skills that will allow you to understand people – particularly people of influence.  You cannot effectively lead those you don’t know, have failed to understand, and have chosen not to serve. The outcome of a leader’s attempts at growing an organization, developing talent, and creating change will be rooted in his/her commitment to focus on changing themselves. I’ve often said it impossible to create corporate growth without leadership growth, or put another way, you cannot scale an organization without scalable leadership. Become a better leader and you will not only predict the future, but you will also have the power to change it.