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By Sandra Mooser
16th August 2021
Book in Focus
Leadership for the Future
Lessons from the Past, Current Approaches, and Future Insights
Edited by Thomas Mengel
“Eyes on the road” and “monitor the rear-view mirror” are excellent advice while driving, and in a more general sense, when managing a team or organisation on its “road” to delivering a particular product or service. Leadership is more than driving or managing. It is about helping people to adapt to ever-changing contexts, about motivating people to change and to move forward towards uncertain futures, and, primarily, about co-creating and implementing a vision oriented toward shared values that makes all the doing worthwhile for everyone.
“Eyes ahead” may be important advice to add when leading in times of exponential change and uncertainty. Leadership skills like anticipation, foresight, visioning, creative problem-solving, data analysis, engaging communication, social innovation, and participatory facilitation are some of the most-wanted competencies in our current job market. However, candidates of that calibre appear to be scarce.
Leadership programs often focus on quick fixes by developing skills that are profitable and that were successful in the past. Many don’t realise that even tomorrow’s problems may become history given exponential developments in technology, data analysis, and neurosciences, and complex challenges in climate change, healthcare, and education to name but a few.
Co-creating and continuously adapting effective solutions that are just and equally accessible to all is a core component of future-proofing leadership processes. The quest for innovative, long-term approaches to leadership from, and for, the future and the passion to explore possible roadmaps for exploring meaningful futures together were at the start of the project resulting in Leadership for the Future.
In this book, twenty authors from around the globe present, explore, and discuss such approaches from multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, and planetary perspectives for the 21st century. They embrace a variety of diverse values, cognitive maps, definitions, and frameworks. Some approaches are more academically oriented; they discuss and develop theoretical perspectives. Others focus on the practice of leadership in and for the future, and offer practical guidelines for implementation.
In Part I of Leadership for the Future, we describe the development of leadership theory and models. We harvest lessons from the past that may inform leadership models that are futures-ready.
In the first two chapters, we explore the evolution of leadership theory. Timothy Dalton describes the modern theory development and presents possible new directions. Christian Couturier and I offer a leadership meta-model which is derived from reflection on, and content analysis of, over 2,000 years of leadership writing. We identified about one hundred most representative capabilities of leadership which have informed a defined conceptual framework that is beneficial to future empirical research and leadership development. Steven Walker presents a case study from 2008, offering an early application of what could serve as a model of ‘futures thinking’.
Part II explores the “value shift” discernible in current approaches to leadership for the future. We discuss how this shift may have contributed to an equalisation of leadership in theory and practice.
We discuss values and mindfulness as key elements of a potential shift of leadership and organisational focus. First, I summarise my research on values-oriented leadership, which is based on and inspired by Viktor Frankl’s work on meaning and values. After exploring the shift of leadership theory from leader-centrism to process orientation, I present Frankl’s concept of the human will to meaning and its application to organisational environments, resulting in a comprehensive concept of values-oriented leadership and a futures-ready concept of leadership. Second, Charlene D’Amore discusses how mindful leadership can transform individuals, organisations, and society.
Further, we explore various paradigm shifts and their impact on leadership. First, Carol Nemeroff and Elizabeth Fisher Turesky discuss networking from a feminist lens, before Antonio Jimenez-Luque presents an epistemological and cultural turn from a Eurocentric to an intercultural approach. Finally, Shelbee Nguyen Voges describes social justice as a core concept for leadership and higher education.
In Part III, we draw from the field of futures studies and foresight to present and explore a variety of approaches for what leadership in and for the future might look like.
Anticipation, imagination, and futures intelligence are key principles of leadership approaches for the future that we discuss in the first three chapters of this section. Mattia Vettorello and James Burke invite us to innovate forward. After this, I present leadership perspectives for the future that are based on an exploratory review of leadership literature and on a computer-aided content analysis of a science fiction trilogy. This chapter shows the need for co-creating futures-oriented approaches to leadership. I discuss contemporary approaches and emerging post-contemporary concepts informing futures-oriented leadership. Finally, I analyse works of science fiction in terms of how they imagine leadership in the future, and propose a conceptual model of post-contemporary leadership. Tyler Mongan and Kevin Reddy present six pillars as core building blocks of leadership future intelligence.
In the next three chapters, we investigate the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and knowledge in leadership processes for the future. Roger Spitz and Rauli Nykaenen explore the nature of decision-making in the future and the agency of AI within a suggested existential framework for leadership. Elissa Farrow discusses how organisations and leaders need to adapt for AI futures. Tom Meylan compares leader-centred with knowledge-driven leadership, considering “the unexpected”.
The last three chapters shed light on particular applications of foresight in leadership. Verne Wheelwright offers guidelines and recommendations for small businesses. Jan Klakurka and Candice Chow discuss values-infused foresight as a core requirement of good governance. In the final chapter of this book, I show how combining scholarship about our human search for meaning and happiness with approaches of foresight and futures-orientation can result in an integrated and practical framework for exploring meaningful futures together. This framework may help individuals, organisations, and communities to imagine and create a meaningful future together.
Drawing from lessons of the past, assessing where we are and how we got here, we need to develop competencies of “futures literacy” (UNESCO). These will be crucial in helping us keep our eyes ahead and on the road, while also monitoring the rear-view mirror. Together these competencies allow us to co-create a variety of valuable visions for the future and to develop leadership that is effective in implementing a meaningful future for us all.
Dr Thomas Mengel is Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, and holds degrees in theology, adult education, history, and computer science. He has worked and consulted in project management and leadership in both Europe and North America, and is also a professional futurist and writer.
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