Perhaps the biggest challenge facing leaders today is ensuring they are capable of navigating themselves and their organizations through a complex and rapidly evolving future landscape.
So how can leaders develop a “futurist mindset” and act accordingly?
Our forthcoming book The Future Leader’s Handbook, is intended to help address the challenges in practical terms. Here we highlight six key principles to ensure we avoid clinging to the past and instead lead into the future.
- Maintain a Constant Dialogue with Key Stakeholders – The leaders who are least surprised by the future tend be those with the broadest radar. They are always exploring both the issues of today and the factors that could shape and disrupt the future. They do their data gathering in the most natural way possible – by talking constantly to customers, prospects, suppliers, partners, shareholders, competitors, industry associations, business networks, advisors, industry analysts, commentators, journalists and – most importantly – their own staff. They probe for ideas and developments that could accelerate quickly and for weak signals of potentially big changes to come.
- Learn Something New Every Day, Then Watch it Grow. Don’t leave scanning just to the futurists. Allocate at least a couple of hours a week to exploring what’s coming next. Good future leaders learn quickly to establish the habits of a trendspotter and seek out new information at every possible turn. Subscribe to newsletters, follow thought leaders on social media, join webinars, and work daily to widen your media diet to include information that broadens your mind. Seek out diverse information sources and cultivate your findings on a link-sharing or social media page of your own. Watch and learn as your observations go from fringe to mainstream.
- Let it Go! Letting go of that which no longer serves us is critical to understanding and acting on the emerging future, and to appreciating and responding to the strategies and business models of new and existing competitors. Cherished assumptions and worldviews may need to be overturned, and long-held ideas and beliefs that have served us well may need to be retired. Our thoughts and beliefs can become a prison which prevent us from exploring and making sense of the world that’s unfolding. Also key here is acknowledging that our own ideas may not be the best ones for any given situation, and that they also have a limited time to be acted upon before they might be overtaken by developments in the world around us.
- Shape a Forward-Looking Culture. Look at the dominant behaviors and stories around the organization. Who do we make heroes of? Are we celebrating and rewarding those who scout out emerging change and seek to pioneer new ideas? How are we using public spaces – are staff surrounded by constantly changing images, icons, and questions of what’s next – or charts of past performance, safety notices, and policy statements? How is our appraisal and bonus system designed – are innovation and challenging the “system” encouraged and rewarded?
- Take a Sustainability Perspective. Sustainability has often been talked about in the context of the environment; climate change, wildlife protection, and natural resource consumption. Increasingly, we see organisations taking a much broader view of sustainability that incudes economy, business, and employment, eradicating inequality, developing ethical business practices, our communities and eco systems, education, and personal fulfilment. Perhaps we should be posing questions about how our businesses and our business practices support sustainability, rather than damaging it.
- Define and Redefine Organizational Identity. Fluctuating conditions in the business environment impact organizations in different ways. Being attentive to unexpected shifts in society gives future leaders an innate sense for when company culture, identity, and values should evolve. A future leader inspires others with a consistently positive attitude towards change.
Never has it been more important for those leading organizations to demonstrate a deep understanding of the forces, trends, developments, and ideas shaping the emerging future: which is why well-known companies are starting to hire futurists. Stakeholders want reassurance that our decision making is based on what’s next as well as what’s been.
A future leader needs the ability to bring people together around new ideas, and remain attuned to unique connections between ideas. The skills are learnable as they build on an innate tendency within human beings to look ahead.
Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Helena Calle are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors.
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