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Leadership From and for the Future – An Emerging Model of Post-Contemporary Leadership

Fri, October 13, 12:15 to 13:15, SQUARE, Studio 202

Short Description

Meaningful leadership paradigms need to go beyond reestablishing the stability of the past or de-constructing the present. Innovative approaches to leadership from and for the future are urgently needed. This presenter will discuss elements emerging from various disciplines and interdisciplinary projects informing a future-oriented, post-contemporary model of leadership.

Detailed Abstract

R. Heifetz’s approach of “adaptive leadership” was one of the first contemporary leadership models recognizing that leaders increasingly face problems that are complex and dynamic. This approach focuses on multifaceted situational challenges of the present that leaders need to respond to with a “systems perspective”.

However, recent voices from within and across various disciplines suggest that the present itself is “under attack” and at an “abyss”. Further, it may find itself in the context of “local and global bifurcations” and at a “decisive moment” calling for extraordinary initiatives, “a compelling vision that connects the big drivers of change with our daily lives” and “system leadership” that focuses on “leading from the future” (Senge et al., 2015; Scharmer, 2016).

In the light of these challenges meaningful leadership paradigms need to explore alternatives to “paddling backwards” and “muddling through” (Scharmer, 2016); they have to find new answers to the question “Where do we go from here?” (Harari, 2016). Thus, innovative approaches to leadership that go beyond adapting to the ever-changing present are urgently needed to co-create holistic and diverse visions for the future and “from the future” (Scharmer, 2016), but without denying (challenges of) the present. These approaches are to be developed in collaboration with thought leaders and innovators from all fields and disciplines as well as across diverse cultures all groups of societies.

This discussion will build on earlier research and share results of a recent review of recently emerging elements and models from the literature across various disciplines (e.g., business, philosophy, history, political science, science, artificial intelligence, and leadership studies) that might inform innovative paradigms of and approaches to leadership from the future. The methodology will use elements from explorative, unstructured, and structured literature reviews (Patton, 2002; Tranfield et al., 2003; Hervieux, 2010); results will be reviewed against criteria borrowed from content and discourse analysis (Weber, 1990; Neuendorf, 2002; Phillips, Sewell, & Jaynes, 2008) as well as from future studies (Kuusi, Kuhls, & Steinmueller, 2015; Inayatullah, 2013)

In particular, in 2015/16 various publications presented emerging and converging themes from diverse disciplines and fields that are directly addressing leadership challenges of the future and that are highly relevant for the field of interdisciplinary leadership:

Leadership 2050:
• Attentional leadership: Influence at various internal (physical…spiritual) and external (individual…community) dimensions and over different spans of time (Past…Future) (Jackson, 2015)
• Quantum Leadership: Consider scientific paradigms resulting from chaos and complexity theories. Integrating duality (uncertainty), superposition, entanglement (decoherence), and observation into leadership (Piel & Johnson, 2015).
• Murmuration Leadership: Humanizing the workplace and focus on “we-leadership” (Two dimensions). Focus on people in evolving and temporary organizations. Developed as one of four scenarios with strategic foresight (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

Critical perspectives on leadership studies and development:
Pfeffer (2015) has discussed what he sees as failures of recent leadership theory and development and proposed that to correct this we need to acknowledge the "facts" about leadership practice and develop a more realistic approach to leadership. Based on her historical discourse analysis Wilson (2016) focuses on leadership as socio-political act and the need to move out of disciplinary silos when critically reflecting on leadership.

Theory U:
By embarking on a journey of connecting our current self with our future emerging self we need to overcome – with an open mind, open heart, and open will – the existing chasm / abyss (Scharmer, 2016).

Homo Deus: A brief history of the future:
We are invited to “think in far more imaginative ways about our future” and let go of our conditioning by the past. We need to develop responses to challenges resulting from upgrading homo sapiens to “homo deus” through “biological engineering, cyborg engineering, and engineering of non-organic beings” (Harari, 2015).

The age of discovery: Navigating the risks of rewards of our new Renaissance:
“The present age is a contest: between good and bad consequences of global entanglement and human development…. [The outcome] depends on what we all do to promote the possibilities and dampen the dangers”. We need to support the eruption of genius by overcoming bias and embracing diversity; establishing bold patronage; daring to fail; and by passionately building new crossroads. We need to overcome popular discontent as demonstrated in extremism, protectionism, and xenophobia by mapping new connections; stoking virtue; thinking ‘and’ not ‘or’; going first; and by loving art – “to reconnect with values …and to see the bigger picture” (Goldin & Kutarna, 2016).

The time complex - Postcontemporary:
The present is perforated and the “time complex” has been disturbed by atavisms and anachronisms; past and future merge eliminating the present (as space and time of resistance) and resulting in a new, modal, interconnected interpretation of time. We live in a “speculative time structure” where “future happens before the present” and the “postcontemporary” conceptualizes transformative, speculative, poetic actions and pragmatics towards an “open future” instead of an “automated future” (Avanessian & Malik, 2016).

Indigenous perspectives on leadership:
Recent contributions by indigenous leadership scholars can meaningfully enhance our limited western perspective on leadership theory and practice (Voyageur, Brearley, & Calliou, 2015).

Finally, we will propose and discuss the following potential elements of an emerging trans disciplinary model of Post-Contemporary Leadership (PoCo):

Drawing from emerging paradigms POCO Leadership can be imagined as a complex and highly adaptive system floating in the multi-dimensional time-space (dis-) continuum of co-existing values, states, and modes some of which will be spelled out further in the presentation:
• local – global – trans spatial
• intra – inter – trans personal
• past (future) – present (past) (future) – future (past)
• claim – enable – sustain – disclaim
• disruptive – poetic – co creative – synthetic – integrative
• dynamic – fluid – elastic – plastic
• emergence – design – change
• structure – process – influence – relationship – system

The conclusion will compare these suggested elements with the very recently (June 2017) published book on "Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World: Thriving in the New VUCA Context" (Elkington, van der Steege, Glick-Smith, & Green, 2017).


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