Prudence means taking the future into account, to ensure continuing acceptability, despite the temptation to aim for short-term satisfaction
Leaders have responsibilities towards all who are under their control or influence. This includes a duty of prudence:
● to take account of trends and foreseeable events;
● to have contingency plans for dealing with foreseeable problems;
● to thoroughly plan major projects;
● to seek advice and take it into consideration;
● to perform a risk analysis when evaluating options;
● to consider possible consequences of their policies, including people’s likely reactions.
The established practices for project management encompass all these steps. The thoroughness with which they are carried out should be appropriate to the importance of the planned action. It benefits leaders to document what they do, so that they can demonstrate to any enquiry that they have been prudent – even if things subsequently go wrong.
If events turn out badly, imprudent leaders might hope that no-one would notice that the problems could have been prevented with due care – but, although mistakes and unforeseeable events are inevitable, there can be no excuse for not taking the future into account. The Trump Administration’s performance in dealing with the coronavirus in 2020, for example, was rightly criticised in an article How the Pandemic Defeated America – which observed that “almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable”.
It is very difficult to measure prudence, even in retrospect. It is impossible to calculate precisely what would have happened if things have been done differently – although comparisons between countries are sometimes possible. Leaders are more likely to be prudent, though, if they know that they will be held accountable for failure to take the necessary care in planning.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/26a.htm.