We're tired of surprises. Couldn't we have
predicted this would happen? Why weren't
we in a leadership position to take advan-
tage of this issue? It's always their agenda,
—Don Bagin, Don Ferguson, and Gary Marx (1985)
Issues are a little like the weather. We talk about them all the time. The question is, is anybody doing anything about them?
In fact, we can manage the issues. The other choice is to kick back and let the issues manage us. The former approach helps us set priorities and puts us in a good position to create a future. The latter is a one-way ticket to spending our time dealing with damage control and fighting fires that may not have even erupted had we been identifying, sorting, dealing with, or even raising issues in the first place. In short, issue management can help us stay in touch with our internal and external environments, and that is an essential part of effective future-focused leadership.
The term “issue management” was coined in 1976 by Howard Chase, a longtime public relations executive for companies such as General Mills, a former U.S. assistant secretary of commerce, and an educator. In a classic 1984 book titled Issue Management: Origins of the Future, he formulated some of the first definitions in this field. Chase noted that “an issue is an unsettled matter which is ready for decision.” On the other hand, he said, “trends are detectable changes which precede issues” (p. 38). Chase (1981) defined weakness as “a propensity to defend yesterday rather than manage