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We have always needed leaders able to understand what the future may hold. It’s just that today we need them more than ever. Patrick Harris and Dr Rebecca Nash outline how we might produce them.
It is easy to suggest that, given the uncertainty in the world today, having a future-focused leader at the helm is more important than ever. However, while it is tempting to assert this, it is wrong to do so.
The fact is that we have always required leaders who study and try to understand how the future might unfold. Today, the need is simply more apparent when we see significant shifts in areas such as global energy supply and security, climate change, a macro-economic shift in power and a fall in the trust afforded to institutions.
But what does it mean to have a future-facing leader? More importantly, how can we equip our emerging leaders with these critical skills before they are exposed to the cut and thrust of leading significant areas of organisations? One sure-fire way to build success in this area is by incorporating Futures, or Strategic Foresight, within leadership development programmes.
A working definition of what we mean by the term “Futures” is that it is the means by which an individual or organisation maintains a mindful brief on the medium to long-term future, identifies opportunities within uncertainty, prepares for possible future events, and embeds its future-focused thinking into strategic and decision-making processes.
Why Futures for leadership?
“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” African Proverb
The two primary reasons for enabling leaders with Futures skills are the need, as Gaston Berger, the widely respected French Futures pioneer, put it, to “disturb the present” and to lead while dealing appropriately with a context of uncertainty.
Disturbing – and acting in – the present
Futures activities can run into difficulty when there has been no intrinsic effort made to link an exploration of the future to an organisation’s strategic and decision-making processes.
For solid strategic linkage, leaders must fully embrace a Futures mindset and thereafter promote the ability to act upon the ramifications and opportunities that possessing a longer-term perspective brings. This combination of Futures study and taking action today is a powerful means of making decisions more robust over the long term
Leading in a context of uncertainty
Along with the aim to make better, more informed decisions sits an equally straightforward reason for developing future-facing leaders – dealing appropriately with uncertainty. While some events can be planned for, there are others that possess a higher degree of uncertainty and it is in these areas where leaders need to build in not finite plans but agility, preparedness and adaptability.
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