What does it mean to lead from the future?

How important is it to develop the skill of leading from the future?

Well, first of all, what does it mean to lead from the future? It means

  • developing a clear picture of the future one prefers
  • cultivating the action-mindset to create it
  • calling on others to join you

IMN_WWR
An essential aspect of this skill is the ability to describe the present. This is not as easy as it might seem, especially in our time of exponentially rapid change. But without cultivating the ability to describe the present, leaders will not be able to anticipate the future.

That’s a skill the prophets of old developed to a high degree.

Many think of the prophets in the Old Testament as soothsayers who could predict the future. But they were mavens at describing the present. They had the courage to open their eyes, see what was really going on around them, and say something about it.

The prophet Nathan rebuked David for the murder of Uriah. The prophets of Israel pointed out the mistreatment of the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Jesus himself read the signs and anticipated the destruction of the Temple.

Twenty-first century leadership needs to hone the ability to describe the present.

In Makers of Fire I talk about three sets of triads or triangles:

  • The triad of fire,
  • the triad of change, and
  • the triad of leadership.

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The Triads of Making Fire
Fuel | Oxygen | Heat = Fire
Artifacts | Meaning | Choice = Change
Describing | Discerning | Discovering = Leadership

from Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Leaders need to be able to fearlessly describe the world as it is, wisely discern the meaning in the moment, and creatively discover paths forward towards the world as they prefer it.

I mentioned in my last post that if I had to describe the present in one word, it would be that we live in a time of Redefinition. Makers_WordPressThe meaning of fundamental societal structures such as marriage, family, and even gender are being redefined.

We can be grateful for the real opportunity these redefinitions give us to re-engage our story. For one example,

  • What do we make of the fact that Jesus speaks about marriage being redefined at least once already?
  • How do we integrate the fact that polygyny seems to be an acceptable marital structure in the Old Testament (David, Abraham, others)?
  • How do we account for animal suffering and death before the “fall” of man?

Leaving the scripture for the world of science, our DNA tells us that polygyny was a more  common marital structure than one man and one woman. We have more “Moms” than we do “Dads” in our genes. We know today that animals lived, suffered, and died for millions of years before humankind appeared on Earth.

This kind of new data creates problems for those who read Genesis chronologically as a history. The way they read it, the first families were made up of marital units comprised of one man and one woman, and after “the fall” everything got screwed up. And, Adam and Eve’s sin allowed death to enter the world.

  • How can we understand the scriptural story of marriage, family, and sexuality as well the existence of death and suffering before the “fall” alongside a genetic and historical story that starts off messy rather than perfect?

Maybe it’s time to rethink our story, and make it bigger so that it accounts for deep time as well as the new data about life on Earth. How can we do this while being true to the biblical story that  we’re in?

Perhaps the vision of the garden and of the man and woman are not about the past at all. Perhaps they are a vision of the future, a future which no culture has yet attained, but towards which we are moving.

This is just one small example. And this one word, Redefinition, describes only one stream within our 21st century culture.

A second descriptor of our time is Exponentially Rapid Change. The Pew Research Group’s findings indicate that the rate of change in the 21st century would be a thousand times faster than in the 20th. And change in the 20th century was blazing fast. Not only are we defining and redefining, we’re doing it at lightning fast speed.

Are you ready?

In Makers of Fire, I offer a dozen descriptors of the present. Redefinition and Exponentially Rapid Rate of Change are two of them. I’ll offer the rest in posts to come. We’ll also be discussing this in the Master Certificate portion of the IMN 2015 Immersion in Orlando. Hope to see some of you there.

As you look around, what is it that you see?

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Order your copy of Makers of Fire on Amazon.
Enroll in IMN 2015 in Orlando, Fl February 2-6. Click the link for more details.

Three Aspects of 21st Century Leadership

Leadership in the 21st century has three aspects:

  1. Fearlessly DEFINING Reality
  2. Mindfully DISCERNING the Meaning in the Mix
  3. Creatively DISCOVERING New Paths Forward

In my new book, Makers of Fire, I layer this TRIAD of defining, discerning, and discovering on two others. The triangle of combustion and the triangle of social change.

DEFINING   |  DISCERNING   |  DISCOVERING     =LEADERSHIP

ARTIFACTS   |     MEANING       |   CREATIVTY         =CHANGE

FUEL            |       OXYGEN        |    HEAT                    = FIRE

(1) DEFINING

Leaders have to stare reality in the eye. What’s out there? What’s really happening? If I had to give a one line description of reality I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”

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“If I had to give a one line description of today’s reality
I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”
 

(Click to tweet)
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Marriage is being redefined. Gender is being redefined. History is being redefined. Identity is being redefined. Nation States are being redefined. Right and wrong, good and evil are being redefined. In this time of redefinition, sources of authority are challenged. Standing on the Bible, the Constitution, an interpretation of history, a tradition, or even on “what works” are no longer credible supports for what is good, right, and true.

All of these are “Artifacts,” things humans make, ways humans think, patterns in which human organize themselves. They are future artifacts. Future archaeologists will study the things we make today and try to understand us. We can also study them as a way of studying the potential futures we are making possible.

(2) DISCERNING

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

To make our time of redefinition even more complex, media keeps everyone alert to the fact that there are contrasting “redefinitions” emerging. Not everyone agrees on what marriage means, whether the United States is right or wrong, whether murdering infants in the womb is good or evil. Not everyone even agrees that there is such a thing as good and evil.

Leaders must look for meaning and purpose within this chaos. They must create compelling narratives, which give context and meaning to human existence, in which others can see themselves fitting and belonging and becoming the people they desire.

For Church leaders this means learning to be comfortable in a setting in which their narrative is not the narrative of the majority, but of a niche. But “narrative” doesn’t mean just a tagline. It means telling a story one deeply believes and believing the story one tells enough to inhabit it.

(3) DISCOVERING

Leaders must nurture new communities which will create new ways forward. For church leaders and churches this will mean “living out” their story with daring and risk. Rather than seeing the Bible or tradition as a limiting factor, it needs to see these as launching pads for improvisation. There’s an old joke that if, while playing a guitar, you hit a bad note, it’s a mistake. If you hit two bad notes, again, it’s a mistake. But of you hit three bad notes, it’s jazz.

Well, no. It’s not.

Improvisation is not just hitting any random note, as if anyone can do it. Improvisation is best accomplished by those who know the fret board best. When you know how a line is supposed to go and you deviate from it in search of something new and fresh, then you’re improvising.

Our season of “redefinition” is not always one of improvisation. We’re often just hitting bad notes.

Leaders and communities who know their story well, believe it, and live it out, will need to improvise… will want to improvise …even if we hit a bad note here and again, in the pursuit of their mission.

To make gains in the public sphere, leaders will need to become media savvy because “social” is the new campfire around which the stories that shape us are being told. Story telling and story tellers will open up possibilities for the future. Communities that live out the future they prefer will redefine the world. (Click to tweet)

Future Skill #1: Simplify

“Leading from the future” is the tagline of my new book, MAKERS OF FIRE. As we make a turn towards the 22nd century, what are some of the leadership skills we’ll need to navigate our rapidly changing world?

Four of the skills we’ll need are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

THE DRIVE TO SIMPLIFY
One of the characteristics of our age is that of increasing complexity. It’s not that our age is complicated. Our age is complex. The difference is that in complicated systems one can predict the outcomes by understanding the starting conditions, while in complex systems outcomes are unpredictable. For example,

  • Building a Rocket is complicated
  • Formulaic
  • Linear
  • Static
  • Leading a Community is complex
  • Self evolving and determining
  • Multi-dimensional
  •  Dynamic

If you build one rocket, you can build another one exactly the same way, and get the exact same result. If you lead a group of people to live in healthy community, and you lead another group exactly same way, anything can happen.

Our complex age resists linear, one size fits all, and formulaic strategies for success. In order to lead in a complex environment, an important skill we’ll need to develop is the ability to simplify. To simplify is to clarify. We live in a world so obsessed with consumption that we lose the ability to know what we want and don’t want. We don’t know what we need and don’t need. To lead in a world of such clutter, we’ll need to see through the commercials, conflicting truth claims, alternative strategies, and opposing demands that clutter the world around us to a future that others can not yet see.

Describing that future — a skill which in the leadership literature is called casting “Vision” and in the discipline of Strategic Foresight is called creating the “preferred future” — until it becomes the north star within a world of tempestuous change simplifies the world. Others may become paralyzed or frazzled by all the contradictions and competing demands, but leaders must keep their eyes on that star. This will help simplify things without being simplistic. Getting there becomes the goal. That’s tight. How to get there can vary as widely as the conditions dictate. That’s loose.

Hold tight. Hang loose. Make Fire!

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

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