Inner leaders spend their time in dealing with new problems and in creative and innovative activity. They are engaged in thinking beyond the day-to-day activities of work accomplishment. They, more than their bosses, are embroiled in thinking about horizon issues. They engage in “problem-finding” more than problem-solving activities. This is very different from managing a precise system with prescribed roles, tasks, and service results. It is equally different from the top leadership tasks of planning and strict plan implementation.
All people pay attention to something. Inner leaders select and consistently pay attention to the tasks and values they want and need. In doing this, they communicate a consistent message to followers, clients, suppliers, and the larger community (Cashman and Burzynski, 2000). Paying attention— focusing self and work-community members—is a major inner leadership technique. This proclivity is a key to defining inner leadership.
Zaleznick (1977) defined future thinking as the capacity to see connections, to draw inferences that aren’t obvious, that may also be unprecedented. The dictionary says it is an immaterial mode of seeing or conceiving. Horizon thinking is thinking through the work community’s central purpose, redefining it, and establishing it clearly and visibly. Bennis and Nanus (1985) define horizon thinking as a task of creating a mental image of a desirable future. This kind of thinking synthesizes and translates the leader’s aspirations into community aspirations. A future focus transcends prescribed or commonly accepted corporate goals—set by the top leader—and substitutes an intimate, focused future in line with the inner leader’s values and the values of work community members.
A future time-horizon is more global in scope and more encompassing than traditional futures thinking. Inner leaders focus on these kinds of “horizon problems.” Since the future is not and cannot ever be precisely defined, their work is becoming largely nonprogrammed. These tasks involve integrating disparate ideas and issues in and about their work communities. As the work world changes, middle-level leaders find they spend less time on day-to-day problem solving and more on simulation of a future no one has experienced yet.
Inner leaders create a future for their work community. In continually communicating that future vision, they focus follower attention and energies on attaining this future state of being. Inner leaders develop in their followers a sense of continuity and significance in order to see the present in the past and the future in the present (Bennis and Nanus, 1985). They make tomorrow as real and operational as today. They cultivate an ability to search for a consensus that will inspire individual effort, not for adequate decisions to direct them. They have learned to deal comfortably with ambiguity in people and program and time and place.
Horizon thinking asks inner leaders to integrate disparate ideas, goals, systems, and experts. As the work community becomes more multidifferentiated, inner leaders develop ways to integrate the work and expertise of an exploding array of stakeholder experts. They demonstrate an attitude of acceptance of the many seemingly unrelated parts of the work community and client system. They generate an open-minded perspective about their work and their community’s role in the larger societies of which they are a part. And out of all this they create a vision of the future state of the work community and the larger community they serve.
A key task of the future-oriented inner leader is integration, is “getting-itall-together.” Leaders in the middle engage in focusing the disparate elements of their work community. They spend time and energy in integrating and focusing the community in an increasingly complex and multidifferentiated system of organizations, programs, and clienteles. In paying attention, inner leaders focus stakeholders’ energy, attitudes, and resources on what they think is important.