The Strategy of Leadership is Thinking, Vision, and Planning – The Future Depends On It

The Strategy of Leadership is Thinking, Vision, and Planning – The Future Depends On It




Grammar speaks of events occurring in three plains. The past was, the future will happen, and we live now, the present. However, operating in the information age, the age of moment global communication, makes the future now. Gates [1] wrote we are citizens of an information society. He noted that past generations, and past societies found ways to gather information, get more work done, increase life spans, and enhance their standards of living. Time was not as basic in those past ages. A message from a ruler may take months to arrive by sea courier. The Pony Express was six days. Airmail was cross-country overnight. The time span between thought and action are virtually unidentifiable today. Although leaders rely on collective knowledge sharing, leaders who include in strategic thinking, imagining events as happening instead of will happen, allows them to view the present as their personal and organizational future.

This paper considers how important strategic thinking is for leaders who want to shape their future and the future of their ecosystem. Strategic thinking is the starting point for creating vision. Traditional planning gives way to flexible organizational structures that change “on the fly.”

Strategy in past generations allowed leaders time for thinking, sensing a vision, clarifying the vision, articulating it to begin considering action plans. Accepting that the future is no longer an event to happen later, this paper explores how leaders think, envision, articulate, and plan. How do leaders continue to use strategy to their advantage in a rapidly changing global ecosystem? The answer is in the age of possibilities [2]. Today, as never before we are free from traditional bonds of work, we are free to choose our futures in addition as shape them to suit our own desires and needs.

This age is an extension of Gates’ information society. We have the ability to choose our reality in a way that never before existed. In the past, a baker’s son became a baker. However, many leaders of the past came from unexpected places. The Biblical King David was the young son tending sheep (1 Samuel 16:11) and Jesus was just the carpenter’s son whose mother we know (Matthew 13:55) [3]. Truman had leadership thrust upon him. These people saw a point on the horizon but events changes their vision. The age of possibilities allows us to rewrite our future as events dictate.

Accepting that we can change as events dictate indicates that there is a less linear structure in this image and a more disorganized non-linear structure. Sanders [4] describes an organizational structure as a known initial condition but the future appears random. Using the form of the “Lorenz Attractor,” she presents a view of interacting and interrelated parts that appear disorderly until a closer inspection discloses the spiraling order hidden in the form. The Gates’ information society and the Taylor and Wacker age of possibilities do not depend on a linear progression of thought and action and Sanders holds the non-linear character of the new science of strategic thinking allows us to understand natural order on its own terms.

Strategy

Does strategy have some mythical or mystical character? Leaders and leadership use the information in many settings, perhaps not really acknowledging what strategy is. consequently, a simple working definition of strategy for this paper is the deliberate method of attaining an outcome, being visionary.

Mintzberg, et al [5] explains that strategies inevitably have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of setting direction is charting a course; however, the disadvantage is narrowing vision, hiding dangers. The advantage of focusing effort is coordination of activity; however, the disadvantage is groupthink. Having a definition of the organization provides understanding of the organization; however, the definition may hide the complexity of the supporting systems. Having a strategy that provides consistency establishes order in a way that reduces ambiguity; however, creative groups appear to function with little or no consistency.

Strategy involves paradoxes as the above use indicates. One paradox tells us the story of answers and questions, once you think you have all the answers, someone changes all the questions. Taylor and Wacker state this paradox as, “The more you are right, the more wrong you will be.” This contradiction confuses the reader, if you are right, how can you be wrong? How? The speed of knowledge accelerated beyond our ability to absorb it in our traditional learning pattern.

Another paradox for visionary leaders involves predicting the future. Leaders who are successful predictors of the future act as agents destabilizing the present. Taylor and Wacker explain that today’s realities and tomorrows expectations collide. The allocation of resources between present and future “produce a enormous future-based political problem with huge consequences for the present.”

Strategy at Work

The State of Nebraska recently made National news with the passage of LB1024 that, in effect, produced segregated school sub-districts in Omaha. The bill was the Unicameral’s way to defeat intercity lawsuits claiming “One City – One School District.” The City of Omaha annexed several small suburban communities to its west, provides police, fire, and city sets to these communities; however, the communities remained independent school districts.

The City of Bellevue annexed several Sanitary Improvement Districts (SID) to its west, provides police, fire and city sets to these incorporated SIDs. past mayors and city councils of Bellevue and Papillion drew haphazard boarders marking the fringes of the two cities school districts in, what were then, unincorporated zones. Population growth attached itself close to Bellevue. Now, Bellevue’s city limits extend beyond the school district boarders. consequently, Bellevue claims “One City – One School District.”

By passing this bill, Senator Chambers [6] acknowledged formal segregation of the districts. LB1024 produced two super-districts, one in Omaha, and one in Bellevue. In Omaha, the super-district has three independent sub-districts. The independent sub-districts have authority over teacher hiring, measures of teacher/student success under federal No Child Left Behind, and administration of their own budget. The super-district has academic authority over the smaller sub-districts.

The strongest supporter of the LB1024 is the State’s strongest proponent of desegregation. Why did Senator Ernie Chambers of the State’s 11th district sustain the bill? He claimed the Omaha school district is already segregated. Segregation re-occurred with the end of bussing in 1999. however, no Omaha high school is more than 48 percent African American.

Bellevue Mayor Jerry Ryan acknowledged the drain on city funds fighting to redraw school district lines. The fight in Bellevue and Papillion is over federal dollars to schools with a population of children of military families. Offutt Air Force Base is located near Bellevue and military dependent children attend elementary and secondary schools in both cities. Redrawing district lines would consequence in more federal money to the Bellevue Public School District.

Strategic Thinking and Vision

Reading the paragraphs above may leave the reader asking, “What were they thinking?” ingemination the paradox of predicting the future affects the present in negative ways, however successful leaders function as though the future is now.

Another view is that nothing turns out exactly as expected. This may leave leaders in an action quandary: Strategic thinking in the midst of shifting paradigms servers to help organizations “clarify, respond to, and influence changes in its ecosystem.”

Strategic thinking allows leaders to think in terms of opportunities to original and influence their future and the future of their organization. Strategic thinking aids in abandonment of policies and procedures that are outdated, out of use, or ineffective.

Strategic thinking is having an awareness of what has not however taken shape, having foresight. Foresight has a facet that is an individual ability and behavior and it can be a course of action or activity in business. On a macro level, foresight is a global practice. observe, reaching a macro level must pass from micro – individual, by mezzo – organizational, to reach macro. Foresight starts with the individual leader seeing or sensing something better [7].

Foresight is more than vision; it is visionary. Being a visionary leader method being provocative and questioning instead of seeing answers. Mintzberg, et al (1998) calls upon visionary leaders to function on emotional and spiritual resources, values, aspirations, and commitment. Leaders need a mental image, build a mental form of a desirable future state. The visionary state is as simple as a dream or complicate as a written document outlining the dream in assessable steps.

Visionary leaders must next translate the dream of the desirable future state into a vision they can proportion with the organization. Sharing a vision must be proactive, must be like a theater performance. Mintzberg, et al addresses performance by the leader as a rehearsal. Rehearsal is the practice of the vision, learning everything they can about the vision. Upon becoming comfortable in rehearsal, the leader must openly perform the vision. Performance brings a dream to life; however, performance has no value without the attending audience. The organizational audience views the performance while feeling empowered to mimic the performance. Organizational mimicking of the performance serves as a starting point for transformation to a higher state of consciousness, becoming, as Senge [8] describes, a learning organization.

Bellevue, Nebraska is the third largest city in the state. Eight years ago, Jerry Ryan made his first run for Bellevue Mayor winning an election against a popular mayor. Bellevue’s population in 1998 was about 29,000. Improvements in transportation, cost of housing and housing developments, and growth in retail and commercial ventures has caused an explosion in population to almost 50,000 with an extended sphere of sets into not however annexed developments of an additional population of about 15,000.

In the May 2006 dominant, Mayor Ryan [9] ran against a field of opponents. Mayor Ryan ran on the ideal that Bellevue has reached a size that requires a complete time mayor concentrated on the city. Opponents, all in their seventies, do not proportion his view. Mayor Ryan won the majority of dominant votes telling the city his vision. In interview with Mayor Ryan, he expressed how hard it is to run a city of 50,000 part-time. “Citizens think I run the city. They are not aware that it is the City Council that approves all action. And, the City Council doesn’t want a complete time mayor,” said Ryan in interview. “If there is one thing I’ve failed to do,” said Ryan, “is adequately proportion my thinking and vision within the council.”

In the “One City – One School District” battle in Omaha, the school district argued that incorporation of suburban districts into Omaha would create a broader tax base, allow for creation of magnet schools throughout the district, and more equitably proportion resources. Senator Chambers, in sustain of LB1024, argued that schools already segregated would have more administrative control over their districts to create educational opportunities for racially definite schools by racially definite administrators. Opposition to LB1024 was high before its passing, the Governor faced strong opposition for signing it, the Attorney General believes it is in violation of federal law and unconstitutional and Omaha’s most famous citizen, Warren Buffet, expressed his strong opposition.

Senator Chambers is the only African-American state senator who is controversial and outspoken. Many of his claims include racially provocative statements against police, school administrators, teachers, and fellow senators. By contrast, to Mayor Ryan, Senator Chambers does not appear to have a vision based on strategic thinking. Senator Chambers’ term in the Unicameral ends in 2008 and he cannot run again because of imposed term limits.

Morgan [10] offers some thoughts on social construction of reality. What he writes is people have images of themselves and these images unfold into their reality. Two leaders identified consequently far have diversely different views of reality. One holds a vision of what can be for the city while the other fights against change using deeply entrenched assumptions of the strength of others to shape events.

Another person, a division head of a large First Data Corporation vicinity [11], offered some insight into strategic thinking and being visionary. In an impromptu interview, she held that having a focus on what is possible helped her rise within a company at a time when it was having serious leadership troubles. When everyone else was seeking safety, she sought innovation-providing direction when it appeared there was none. Her member sets vicinity is the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. She said, “I thrive on chaos. When things look the most confused, I see my division diversified, flattened, with empowered subordinate managers.”

Our dialogue continued on chaos with Kim conceding she manages chaos within set organizational plans and policies. This rule to her admission that she is more ordered in her expectations and spends more time planning than thinking and creating vision.

Strategic Planning

Hill and Jones [12] discuss strategic planning with the same careful of Davis [13]. One concept of planning is doing so under uncertainties. In life and business, the only certain is uncertainty. Organizations cannot plan for the future because it is unpredictable. Another consideration is planning cannot be a top-management function alone. This “ivory tower” planning may consequence in senior leaders thinking in a vacuum, being enthusiastic about a plan and having no operational realities. Finally, strategic planning often suffers because planners have a short-range view of the current ecosystem missing the dynamics of the competitive ecosystem.

Mintzberg, et al devotes a section to “Planning’s Unplanned Troubles.” They explain that planning establishes inflexibility. They sustain the assertion presented above with the misconception of predetermination. This misconception says organizations are able to predict the direction of their ecosystem, are able to exercise control over the ecosystem, “or simply to assume its stability.” “Because examination is not combination, strategic planning has never been strategy making.”

Reverse course a little, planning is not a bad thing when used in cohort with strategic thinking and visionary leadership. It is applying the controlling component strategy to planning that causes problems. Morgan argues in favor of plans and planning when produced in a visionary framework that can evolve as circumstances change. What they insinuate in relating the tail of the “Strategic Termites” is unpredictability of organizational structure. An organization’s leader does not need a strategic plan to impose order. Order, like in a termite colony, emerges in an evolutionary way. Planning is not guided by plans rather by a sense of know what the organization wants to ultimately unprotected to. Ideas, action, and events occur separately but self-organizing however seemingly disorganized groups of termites seize the opportunity to begin change.

The Future Depends On It

Seeing the future depends on foresight. Having a future view and strategically thinking of the future creates a new paradigm, part of the paradoxes already discussed. One old paradigm indicates future thought as a prediction and development of plans based on the prediction. Making plans establishes policy necessary to reach the expected future. When the predictions fail to materialize an organization scrambles to retrieve. Another paradigm is the invention of the future. This method people both construe and become constrained by the structures they enact and change by practice. Gaspar [7] refers to the work of Mintzberg, et al, saying the old paradigms do not work in future thinking organizations. She tells us we must integrate a strategy that includes patterns and perspectives with planning and positioning.

Take a view of American companies 100 years ago. Of the top 12 companies 100 years ago, ten dealt in selling commodities. Today, of the top 12 U.S. companies, three deal in commodities. The remaining nine companies deal in sets, manufacturing, and high technology [14]. The only thing certain is change and business leaders must learn to cope with it in order to manage it. Coping with change and managing it average businesses can profit from it. The future of business is knowledge pushed. Countries must be smart, companies must be smart, and people must be smart.

Countries, companies, and people must be equally smart at the same time. To win the future game, each of the three must anticipate and adapt to change in order to manage it effectively. Mayor Ryan admitted that government is slow to change. By example, he cited the city council established a steering committee to probe whether the city needed to use money for computers in the mayor’s office. The city has a web presence but the city council did not adopt an intra- and inter-city email system until the steering committee received confirmation from surrounding cities of their system usage. The mayor is 72; by contrast, the average age of the city council is about 63. Mayor Ryan recognizes the value of technology and aggressively seeks younger citizens to go into city government. He hopes forward thinking younger people will excursion the risk negative council toward active and aggressive risk management.

Senator Chambers is the longest serving Senator in the Nebraska Unicameral. He is 69 years old and suffered racial slurs and isolation from fellow senators when he took office. Slurs and threats, chalked on his capitol office door, keep and he considers these a badge. He does not appear on the senate floor in suit and tie. He wears blue jeans and sweat shirts in protest to conformity. However, Senator Chambers seems to exist in an era when racism and segregation were the norm. He rarely seeks coalition with other senators preferring to be a voice of defiance [15].

These two leaders view the future differently. While one hopes to unprotected to the future by recruiting younger forward thinking people into the political system, the other remains rooted in the past. Neither manages the future proactively but approach the future based on present and past experiences not by information seeking, strategic thinking, and visionary mental modeling.

Conclusion

This paper discussed strategy, strategic thinking and vision making, planning, and the future. These are not separate activities although the discussion presents them individually. By recognizing the Lorenz Attractor as a spiral of interacting parts of an organization, one can also find this form fits a non-linear course of action of thinking, vision, and planning. Seeing the future as an evolving present helps leaders comprehend that stiff policies based on formalized strategic plans hinder response to change.

Strategic thinking and vision creation indicates that leaders continually test their mental form with new thinking and questioning – progressively looping thinking, vision, and new information into new thinking. This cycle course of action allows leaders to anticipate disruptions in the business cycle. Leaders who question themselves asking, “what if …” know “what if …” These leaders are future seeking and organizations employing these leaders are future seeking learning organizations prepared to change before change occurs.

This paper does not deny the value of planning as part of a strategic course of action. However, stiff planning that does not calculate the shifting horizon of organizational development leaves the company questioning, “What happened,” instead of “what’s happening.”

Foresight allows for strategic management, forecasting and positioning of an organization. The outcome from foresight in business is the expected future becoming an unavoidable future.

References:

1. Gates, B. (1996). The Road Ahead. New York: Penguin Books.

2. Taylor, J., Wacker, W. with method, H. (2000). The Visionary’s Handbook: Nine Paradoxes that will Shape the Future of Your Business. New Youk: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc.

3. Holy Bible. New International Version. Bible Online. Retrieved from http://www.bible.com.

4. Sanders, T. I. (1998). Strategic Thinking and the New Science: Planning in the midst of chaos, complexity, and change. New York: The Free Press.

5. Mintzberg, M. Ahlstrand, B. & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy Safari: A guided tour by the wilds of strategic Management. New York: The Free Press.

6. Gaspar, J. (2005, August 21-24). Corporate foresight – an attempt to listen to the voices futures’ generations in the strategy making course of action. Future Studies Department, Corvinus University of Budapest. Retrieved June 15, 2006 from http://www.budapestfutures.org/downloads/abstracts/Gaspar%20Judit%20Abstract.pdf#search=’judit%20gaspar%20corporate%20foresight’

7. J. Ryan (personal communication, April 28, 2006) in discussion of mayoral leadership strategy in a metropolitan community.

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12. Ong Teck Mong, T. (2006, May 7). Anticipating and Managing Change: The meaningful to Future Success. Asian Institute of Management 37th Commencement Ceremonies. Retrieved June 16, 2006 from [http://www.aim.edu.ph/home/announcementc.asp?id=741].

13. Ernie Chambers. (2006). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 31, 2006 from [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernie_Champers].

14. Blackman, D. A. and Henderson, S. (2004). How foresight creates unforeseen futures: the role of doubting. Futures, 36. 253-266.

15. Johnson, T. A. (2000). An Intellectual and Political Biography of Nebraska State Senator Ernest Chambers: Activist, Statesman, and Humanist, 1937-. Plains Humanities Alliance: Events. Retrieved May 31, 2006 from [http://libr.unl.edu:2000/plains/events/seminars/johnson1.html]

16. Nadler, D. A. and Tushman, M. L. (1997). Competing by Design: The strength of Organizational Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press.

17. Somasegar (No First Name) (2006, January 21). Strategic Thinking. Retrieved June 2, 2006 from http://blogs.msdn.com/User/Profile.aspx?UserID=3644.




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