Alireza Hejazi reflects his thoughts about the role of futurists as leaders in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Referring to one of my previous posts in which I mentioned six roles that futurists may take, I would like to focus on three roles in this post by which a futurist may appear as a leader. The leadership skills strataplex (Mumford, Campion & Morgeson, 2007) suggests that leadership skill requirements are conceptualized as being layered (strata) and segmented (plex). In this sense, categories of leadership skill requirements (cognitive, interpersonal, business, and strategic skills) correspond to three levels of junior, mid and senior managers. I review what I explained earlier and then extend my thoughts to the purpose of this post: futurists as leaders.
A futurist analyst (junior manager) is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his/ her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. As analysts, futurists are not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, they study those ideas and propose the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The futurist analysts produce information for the second role, the manager .
A futurist manager (mid manager) is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He/she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures .
A futurist consultant (senior manager) is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He/she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.
All these three roles remind that futurists are capable of functioning as leaders at different echelons. When I shifted my field of study from strategic foresight to organizational leadership at PhD level, I wanted to find out what makes a futurist to become a leader, and whether multiple leadership roles can be practiced simultaneously. My studies to this point show me that leadership is an evolved form of foresight leading both the leader and the led toward better futures.
In my view, the wide variety of complex changes that we witness in our world today places a large load of responsibilities on futurists’ shoulders. To play their leadership role effectively, futurists can no longer depend on their foresight knowledge and skills alone. They need to transcend their foresight capabilities and enter the leadership territory to cope with changing complex demands. Finding the honor of cooperating with futurist leaders in recent years, I can comprehend that well-informed foresight requires multiple competences to deal adequately with the diverse and sometimes contradicting demands.
By this I do not mean that futurists should adopt a reactive approach toward environmental uncertainties. Instead, I intend that futurists as leaders are expected to be able to provide effective responses to novel forces arising in a volatile world. Scharmer’s (2007) Theory U reminds that futurists must be able to develop open mind, heart, and will. In this way, they sense the changes occurring in the external world as futurists and communicate them as leaders to other leaders in the internal context to create something different.
As Cartwright (2015) identified five crucial characteristics of foresight profession in one of her posts, futurists are expected to be able to help people think for themselves through an inspiring leadership. They need to be risk taking in order to transcend boundaries as brave individuals to provoke new ways of thinking. In her point of view, a true futurist aims to encourage leadership at all levels. Referring to a keynote speech delivered by Dawson (2015) on the role of futurists as leaders before the Dutch Future Society, she mentions that futurists “need to help others to think forward and in turn to act better today.” In this sense, “we are at a critical juncture in human history, when actions we take—or do not take—today will shape our collective future to an extraordinary degree.”
Together with Cartwright and Dawson, I believe that futurists are expected to function for higher purposes beyond foresight. In my view, the most effective futurists are the ones who can fulfill several leadership roles simultaneously. With respect to the changes being made in foresight as a dynamic growing profession, it is of course a relevant question if and how futurists contribute to the performance and outcomes of organizations they serve by their leadership. The expanded complexity of futurists’ roles requires us to redefine our profession not just as futurists but also as leaders who are faced with complex decisions and problems more than ever. Professional futurists are the best candidates for expanding leadership to the roads less traveled.
Cartwright, V. (2015). The future is bright for futurists: 5 crucial characteristics of their craft, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/the-future-is-bright-for-futurists-5-crucial-characteristics-of-their-craft/
Dawson, R. (2015). The role of the futurist as a leader, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/role-of-futurist/
Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.
Scharmer, C. O. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.