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Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Here are 7 key insights I’ve learned from 25 years as a senior geopolitical advisor that are great guides to frame leadership conversations.

1. Nothing is black and white, and everything is connected. Despite what many political leaders might say, every policy has pros and cons. The world is irrevocably interconnected so action in one area reverberates in others. Domestic and foreign policy cannot be segregated. The art of good policy is thus designing a strategy to achieve the greatest good across multiple arenas. The same is true of leadership decisions; there is always more than one option and there are always positive and negative implications.

2. Understanding the other’s perspective is key to effecting change. The best policy is the one that takes into consideration the other players’ views. You need to understand their will, interests and capabilities in order to evaluate how they are likely to act. So too, leadership does not happen in a vacuum; you need to understand the vantage point of the other relevant actors in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

3. Good policy making means seeing the macro-perspective as well as the micro. Opportunities appear when you can gain sufficient distance to see the open spaces. This is where creative thinking occurs and where negotiations over broader interests can take place. Defining the challenge too narrowly limits the outcome space. So too at a personal level. Expanding the definition is like taking a camera into space – it allows you to see the full context and thus identify where the fault really lies.

4. Systems and processes matter. Organisational systems have a huge impact on the art of the possible. Knowing how the paper flows and where to find the resources (eg: money) can make the difference between policy success or failure. Good policymakers employ tactics that bring the systems to bear effectively to deliver on their objectives. Similarly, understanding your organisational systems and processes allows you to understand where the supporters and detractors sit so you can focus your attention on the areas of greatest elasticity for impact.

5. Find partners and allies. Build coalitions of support, particularly if you’re trying to break norms (or habits). Going it alone will always make it harder.

6. Always review your assumptions. The world is changing very fast. What was true a year ago might no longer be the case. So, for any new policy initiative, start by reviewing your assumptions. So too at a personal level: what assumptions are holding you back? Are they still true?

7. Don’t do something unless you’re happy to see it on the front pages of the morning papers. If you’re ever uncertain about a new policy, ask yourself whether you can comfortably defend it in the media. If it doesn’t live by your values, then go back to the drawing board - it’s not the right policy. So too for life decisions; do they accord with your values. If not, ask yourself whether you are going in the right direction.

The perspective that comes from the geopolitical arena is directly relevant to the questions you might want to ask, and answer, in any conversation designed to gain new insights and understanding of complex challenges.

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