As the USAF prepares for new challenges and opportunities of the coming decades, it faces sobering 21st-century realities: pandemics, rising state on state competition, global centers of power have become more distributed and the terrorism threat more dispersed. Most importantly, the emerging environment is demonstrating a trend that could prove to be the defining one of current times: the accelerating pace of change.
As such, the Air Force’s ability to continue to adapt and respond faster than potential adversaries is the greatest challenge it faces during the next 30 years.
As an organization, the USAF has spent years pondering LEAN, AGILE, AFSO21, but I have to believe organizations large and small have now learned how to be lean and agile, and how to best execute a strategy at a high level—but how’s that working for America in the 21st Century? Is it time for a change?
Secretaries of the Air Force since Deborah Lee James and Chiefs of Staff since Gen. Mark A. Welsh III have developed strategies and frameworks to guide Air Force planning and resourcing over coming decades. But, what kind of leader must we develop to guide the Air Force during the execution of said strategy (or strategies)?
Let’s ponder some large bureaucracies that failed to develop the correct leader: General Motors had a robust strategy but still declared bankruptcy, Blockbuster closed its last store, and Blackberry quickly moved from leading to bleeding. And let’s not forget Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Dell, and a host of other companies who failed to thrive despite its leaders and workers being constantly busy executing strategy developed by leaders that failed to anticipate the future.
In order to operate in this new age of hyper-change and growing uncertainty, it is imperative we learn and develop a new competency—anticipatory leadership.
The future is there for us to see when we know where and how to look at it.
An Anticipatory Leader must hone three very important traits and skills:
1) Futurist: A futurist systematically explores predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present, whether that of human society in particular or of life on Earth in general.
The term “futurist” most commonly refers to authors, consultants, organizational leaders and others who engage in interdisciplinary and systems thinking to advise private and public organizations on such matters as diverse global trends, possible scenarios, emerging market opportunities and risk management.
In the mid‑1940s the first professional “futurist” consulting institutions like RAND and SRI began to engage in long-range planning, systematic trend watching, scenario development, and visioning, at first under World War II military and government contract and, beginning in the 1950s, for private institutions and corporations.
More generally, the futurist label includes such disparate lay, professional, and academic groups as visionaries, foresight consultants, policy analysts, cultural critics, planners, marketers, forecasters, prediction market developers, road-mappers, operations researchers, investment managers, actuaries and other risk analyzers, and future-oriented individuals educated in a myriad of academic discipline, including anthropology, complexity studies, computer science, economics, engineering, Urban design, evolutionary biology, history, management, mathematics, philosophy, physical sciences, political science, psychology, sociology, systems theory, technology studies, and other disciplines. A leader that is indeed a futurist presents an organization with massive diversity. They are visionaries.
2) Strategist: A strategist is a person with responsibility for the formulation and implementation of strategy. Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy. Strategy can be intended or can emerge as a pattern of activity as the organization adapts to its environment or competes. It involves activities such as strategic planning and strategic thinking. Simply put—they are thinkers.
A strategist is someone who has the ability to see beyond the near term – Richard Mander
A strategist is concerned with establishing the long-term direction of a business. – Anas, Strategy Consultant
A strategist is responsible for conceptually and holistically thinking of a future direction based on incomplete information. —Rui Martins, Director
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” ― Aldous Huxley
3) Integrator: An integrator is a leader who specializes in bringing together component subsystems into a whole and ensuring that those subsystems function together. These systems are not simply physical, but are also metaphorical in nature. A true integrator can bring ideas from a myriad of sources, art, academia, history, entertainment, and science (naming only a few) together to build a myriad of solutions. An Integrator is growing in importance as the world becomes more ‘connected’. As well as integrating new systems, the task of integrating current systems is attracting massive amounts of research and effort.
The current problem is how to harness all the information available, from the various information generators into one complete picture. The level of information, needed by the different levels in the strategic structure, and the relevance of the information (information can become outdated in seconds) is so variable that it may be necessary to have more than one system or agency connected.
A true integrator is a master of culture and can connect as easily in a military organization as with academia, business, or other government agencies. They are true educators and connectors.
Visionary, thinking, and culturally competent, and educated leaders….Is it easy? Heck no! But, it is far past time to dump the buzz words and concepts of the 20th Century and embrace our current state.
A few Anticipatory Leaders to consider (pictured above)
George C. Marshall
The Futurist, Strategist, and Integrator Concept is based on The Art of the Future Concept: For more on anticipatory leadership see Anticipatory Leadership at Art of the Future