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The Gifts That Keep On Giving

Updated: May 16

I was exposed to futures studies and foresight as I researched literature for my dissertation. The Human and Organizational Systems program at Fielding Graduate University was designed to empower scholar-practitioners to become agents of organizational change. I learned about the interconnectedness and interdependence of human and organizational systems. In this context, the smallest unit of a system is the self. Change the self, and organizational change is soon to follow.

 

As a leadership development coach and advisor, I have discovered the many benefits of integrating futures thinking and strategic foresight in my practice. My clients are emerging leaders within higher education systems. While some have served their institution as scholars and professors for many years, others have recently joined their university. In either case, a hallmark of the work that I do is facilitating their understanding of how to navigate their universities’ systems. This is where many of the stories converge.

 

The Uncertainties of New Leadership


Like their counterparts in other fields, the new leaders I coach grapple with time management, people management, and (more importantly), self-management. They also struggle with self-identity and agency. So much of who they are has become subsumed by their fields of study, scholarly acumen, or institutional position. After lamenting about some of the challenges within their departments, they would say something like, “Who am I to change the way things are?” That’s when I invite them to engage with possible futures.

 

A Broader View



Then, our session shifts to a plane of imagination. My clients have the opportunity to visit themselves 10 (sometimes less) years in the future and explore what’s happening internally and externally. They record what they see emerging in their field. Then I ask, “Given what you see, might your department still be relevant?” “If not, what needs to change?” I also ask them to reflect on possible needs of future students.

 

With the exception of start-up companies, very few new leaders are asked to instigate organizational change. They are expected to carry on the business of their departments in much the same way as their predecessors, or “continue the legacy.” My clients have shared the resistance they experience when they behave in ways that are contrary to which their leaders have become accustomed. Keep in mind that it is often the case that a leadership position at a university is usually vacated when the incumbent retires from the profession or dies.


A Deeper Look

 

If imaginaries are too abstract for the clients, then I can employ strategic foresight tools, such as the futures triangle, three horizons, analyzing institutional patterns, impact analyses, or scenarios. These and other methods of engagement with futures allow my clients to test ways they might contribute to their organizations in ways they hadn’t previously considered. They also begin to see their leadership identities as their own, distinct from their departmental legacies.


One of the most powerful foresight tools I employ is an exploration of personal futures, which also includes Causal Layered Analysis (CLA). These sessions become quantum and multidimensional. The space becomes even more sacred. I feel the weight of holding space for my clients to explore the depths of their identities. It becomes a space of humility and profound vulnerability. My clients often travel to the edges of their known selves to what is unknown and filled with abundant agency. For scholars from racialized or marginalized backgrounds (including their experiences in academia), this can be life altering. I don’t remember where I read, “futures are not colonized,” but I remember how I felt when I read it. I vowed to be a conduit of that same level of emancipated empowerment with every client I serve.

 

Integrating futures thinking and strategic foresight with leadership coaching has enabled me to gift my clients transcendent spaces to consider possible, probable, and alternative futures as they undertake new leadership roles. Engaging with personal, professional, and organizational futures empowers my clients to anticipate potential changes in their internal values and priorities, external developments within their institutions, and emerging prospects throughout their professional fields. Such insights are also a gift of personal agency (especially to new and underestimated leaders).

 

A Little Something for Me

 

Engaging with futures thinking and foresight has gifted me with new perspectives for overcoming historical hegemonies and current crises. Employing futures tools and methodologies have restored my hope and confidence in possibilities for brighter futures. When I started my learning journey to understand organizational change, the question for me was which “self” would be the most impactful lever for change. Who influences change? Is it really the decision-makers? Or the dissenters, who disrupt or agitate the status quo, thereby instigating new iterations of a system? As I continue to learn more about strategic foresight and futures consciousness, I am beginning to think it doesn’t matter. Change will occur in a system whether it is poked or not. Without irritation, manipulation, or disruption, systems will eventually wear, break down, and decay. But, those who have been oppressed or exploited by social systems and structures, cannot afford to wait for such inevitabilities. As one of my clients proclaimed during an aha moment, “Time is worth more than money.”

 

Image Credits:

 

  1. Arrows All Directions Star, accessed Apr 14, 2024, via Bing Creative Commons, https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2014/01/29/11/53/arrows-254261_640.png

  2. Flight Free Hang Gliding, downloaded Apr 14, 2024, via Bing Creative Commons, flight-652265_960_720.jpg (cdn.pixabay.com)

  3. Free Stock Image of Scuba Diver, accessed April 14, 2024, via Bing Creative Commons, scuba_diver.jpg (412×550) (sciencestockphotos.com)


© Zabrina Epps, 2024

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