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Chapter 9: Method 6: Taking a Horizon Perspective

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.

Defining The Leader's Horizon Focus

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). Paying attention - focusing self and work-community members - is a major inner leadership technique. This proclivity is a key to defining inner leadership.

Zaleznick 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 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). 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.

Inner Leaders Have an Integrative Perspective

Horizon thinking asks inner leaders to integrate disparate ideas, goals, systems, and experts. As the work community becomes more multi-differentiated, 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-it-all-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.

Methods Of Horizon Thinking

Horizon thinking asks inner leaders to emphasize some experiences over others and in this way more sharply focus the work community's cultural integration process. It is another process that helps change the way people think about their work, their coworkers, and their joint purposes. Creating a unique community future involves leaders in several important mind-changing tasks. Among them are setting the values base for mutual interaction and thinking strategically about the work community and its future that may be different from the values shared at present. Horizon thinking is systematically shaping a desired future work context - culture, organizational structure, and work processes and goals - within which members can trust others and expect others to trust them. It becomes a task to inspire and encourage others to be their best selves through innovation, intuition (Tesolin), spontaneity, compassion, openness, receptivity to new ideas, honesty, caring, dignity, and respect for people (Cashman and Burzynski).

The Visioning Process

While inner leaders can choose from a variety of methods of shaping their work community's future, the objective used is simple. It asks the leader to create the future for the work community rather than letting the future just happen. Of the several ways to create a desired future, the following is suggested as an illustrative outline of this process. This iteration involves five phases:

  1. Leader preparation

  2. Scanning the forces of change

  3. Creating the horizon future

  4. Sharing that future state of being with others

  5. Marshaling work-community member action.

This process represents a unique technique of inner leadership. The horizon thinking technique is evolving and dynamic. Nevertheless, we can describe it in general terms. Its mastery is implicit in success for the inner leader.

Leader Preparation

Horizon thinking is a tool of both work community and leader action. While it applies to all community members, it originates from the creative insights of the middle-level leader. It entails an attitude change to commit unreservedly to define a specific future for the work community and to the idea of focusing on one or a few alternative future priorities, values, and processes instead of others. Unless the commitment is genuine, this technique will fail. The task of future creation also involves communicating that future and using it in all the leader does. It is expensive of the inner leader's and the organization's resources - especially initially.

After a creative future is defined, the task is fundamentally one of inner leader discipline. That future becomes the standard by which all else the inner leader does and says is measured. The inner leader must also prepare the work community to participate in defining its collective future. Prior to actually beginning work to create a new future for the community, followers must be readied to be effective and to feel comfortable in sharing decisions, plans, and methods of work-community operation. In preparation for this follower training, leaders typically have thought through the future they desire and used that as the benchmark for collaborative interaction.

Scanning the Forces of Change

Creating a community's future is preceded by seeking out and understanding the forces for change in the larger corporation, the immediate work community, and the broader cultural environment surrounding it. Creating an appropriate future for the work community requires inner leaders to probe deeply into the factors impacting the work community and the various communities it serves. They must scan these communities to find answers to basic questions of institutional purpose and place in the larger corporate community and the general society and among professional colleagues. Inner leaders scan the environment for clues to what unique role the community can fulfill. This scanning process seeks answers to questions like these: "What is our role, our service, our ‘business'?" "What does the law say about us?" "Who are our clients, our competitors?" "What is happening in the larger community, in technique, in public opinion, in the courts, in the legislatures, that affects our mission?" It also seeks answers to questions like this: "What is being said by our professional colleagues, our customers, futurists, opinion makers, politicians that affects us?"

Part of this environmental scanning process involves examination of the leader him or herself. Future-building is a complex interaction of the leader's personal values and orientation and those of work-community members. Which core values become part of the final future created depends on this interaction. Scanning, therefore, must equally explore inner leaders' experiences, values, biases, behaviors, and other characteristics that set them apart and make them unique. These factors in the "leadership environment" are equally as important, as are facts about the work community and larger communities of interest of which they are a part.

Three factors are critical here. First, care is needed to ensure that the scan is not colored by existing perception of the present. The scanning needs to be a continuous process. And inner leaders can enhance scanning by encouraging broad participation by all stakeholders - coworkers, clients, customers, and subject matter experts, as well as by themselves.

Creating the Future

Using scan data, inner leaders then create a future for their work community. Creating a future deals with change. This kind of change is incorporated into goals and centers on people. An effective future statement extends beyond the leader to all followers and to collateral communities. At least the following characteristics of an organization's future statement are important. These statements should reflect the leader's core purposes for the work community. They should define and articulate a feasible and challenging goal. The futures statement articulates a goal that has a larger significance than the immediate work objectives, task accomplishment, or profit. It deals with horizon ideas. The statement of a work community's future is a value-laden statement of what it wishes to become. It is not who the members are, nor even how they are doing. It is a statement of what the work community will seek, the purposes it will foster, the nature and character of its product mix, its service philosophy, and its essential self-definition.

Once articulated, the futures statement alters the nature of the relationships between the inner leader and community members. It provides a common purpose around which members can coalesce in doing their separate jobs. It becomes a mechanism to improve solutions to conflict. Such a statement keeps both leader and followers focused on the larger issue - their mutual horizon idea. A futures statement constitutes the raison d'Ítre for the work community's activities. It also serves as a standard for reaching decisions. And it makes clear the directions of the community. It defines their ends and means results.

The procedure for creating a statement defining the work community's future is essentially the same whether it is for a work unit, a department, or the full corporation. The following phased approach outlines a procedure to arrive at a futures statement for a work unit in the middle of the corporation.

  1. Identify what the work community does for its clients, the corporation generally, and society. Analyze the work unit's past as well as current experiences, programs, and activities and select its central activity. Inner leaders may have to reinterpret existing goals statements or look at the essential nature of the community's essential tasks.

  2. Identify the leader's interests, skills, and areas of commitment. The future created by the inner leader is an outgrowth of his or her cumulative experiences and includes assessing his or her formal education and training, examining avocational experiences and capacities, and assessing leadership skills, styles, and abilities.

  3. Identify the work community's clients and customers. Stakeholders come from both inside and outside the community. The futures statement must encompass the needs and interests of all stakeholders or vital parts of the work community will be excluded.

  4. Match external client needs and internal personal capacities and interests. This phase of the process involves developing a listing of values, deeply held beliefs, and traditions held by the work community and individual members.

  5. Write out a futures statement. Working alone or with followers, inner leaders commit to writing their mental image of a desired future state of being that incorporates the central reason for their being and the guiding values of the community and its leader. Based on this analysis, they may initially develop several versions of the vision.

  6. The next step is to select the futures statement with the most "fit."

  7. Present it to the work community stakeholders. Persuade them of its usefulness, secure their understanding and commitment, and relate it to the full corporation, clients and customers, and subordinates.

  8. Determine relationships of the futures statement to work-community concerns. The inner leader needs to understand all relationships and how the statement relates to each element of the interpersonal relationships network.

Sharing That Future State of Being with Others

Creating a new future is one thing, communicating it quite another. The task of the inner leader is to inculcate that perception of the potential future and its intrinsic values in the minds and hearts of all stakeholders. Inner leaders give it continuous attention by words, pictures, speeches, training, pamphlets, posters, plans, and other actions that help realize that future. Sharing the future is a continual process of teaching others and unleashing the discretionary power resident in the workforce. This task of persuasion is the essence of the inner leader's job (Gareau).

Sharing the new future involves the leader in communication. But it is communication to persuade (Cashman and Burzynski), to change the values and the behavior of stakeholders to conform to the new future. This kind of sharing is done in personal contacts, in work-community meetings, and in both formal and informal contacts with stakeholders. The new future definition of the community is an outgrowth of the experience and values of the leader. Inner leaders communicate that level of commitment to stakeholders (Johnson). In a way, inner leaders do this to act always authentically within those values. Inner leaders, in many ways, model the work community values. They personify them.

Marshaling Work-Community Member Action

Taking action to implement (make real) the future thus created and not other goals, is the final phase of horizon thinking. It is focusing attention to reflect coworker's action toward that future. Action to carry out the defined future involves all actions the leader takes. Implementing it is seen in the words spoken and the people they are spoken to. It is seen also in policies adopted, procedures implemented, programs adopted, changed, or discarded. It is seen in promotion decisions and in firing policies. It is part of space allocation, benefits programs, and salary schedules. In short, all the inner leader does is part of the task of making real the new potential future.

The Scenario

A scenario is another way to define alternative futures for a work community. A scenario is a description of an imagined future state of affairs. Scenarios usually portray several possible futures rather than predictions about a single future event. Scenarios have unique characteristics that make them an excellent technique inner leaders might use for this purpose. Scenarios are of greatest value when dealing with extended future possibilities. They may be presented in various forms or combinations of forms: narratives, feature newspaper stories, data tables, graphic displays, videotape, computer games, and so on. A scenario is a kind of future "picture" that incorporates a plausible set of relations not likely to be evident from traditional forecasting techniques.

A scenario can include a wide range of variables - technological, informational, skills, public interest - depicting a broad spectrum of possibilities. It may invoke new value systems or standards for the examination of these variables, values, or standards that might seem undisciplined or inappropriate if used in other activities. A scenario is created by inner leaders (with or without help from their followers) who believe they can envisage a path into a future. Scenarios use information available about the future topic but should not be limited by that information. They describe one or more plausible paths from the present to the future period contemplated. They describe critical events on that path and call attention to policy and planning issues. Finally, scenarios recognize that a plausible future may not at present seem either likely or even socially desirable.

Scenario Writing Guidelines

The role of the scenario is to set forth plausible alternatives in a way that helps the inner leader focus attention on actions that will need to be taken at various times in the future. That is, each scenario should be judged in terms of the following five criteria:

  1. Relevance: Does the scenario deal with an important aspect of the futures in a way that permits further development?

  2. Usefulness: Does it provide insights, sensitivities, an idea, structural framework, or suggestion that can be used now or in the future to guide policy and leader action?

  3. Originality: Does the scenario present ideas that are new or deal with old ideas in new, creative ways?

  4. Consistency: Do the conclusions of the scenario follow from its assumptions?

  5. Communicability: Is the scenario interesting, and can it be understood by persons who do not have specialized training in the topic or field of interest?

Methods of Scenario Development

There is, of course, no single, correct way to write a scenario of the future of a given work community. Some hints, from others' experience, follow.

In writing a scenario covering the next thirty or forty years, leaders need to know what the constraints on the future are going to be and where to get such information. Three kinds of data are useful in knowing what the constraints on the future might be. The first might be called trends - forces from the past and the present that are pushing society in certain directions. The second thing is a consideration of events - the things that interrupt the trends - inventions, natural disasters or war, death, disability, or sudden creative insights. They are the unpredictable elements of the future. Along with events, inner leader need also to look at images. Images of the future are what people think the future is going to be like.

Analysis of trends, events, and images helps inner leaders determine what the major alternative futures might be and plan for these alternatives, rather than for any one of them. Then they develop scenarios to indicate what the major alternative futures might be and produce some scenario or sets of scenarios for each of these major alternative futures. For example, some suggest that the two dominant conflicting images of the future of American postindustrial society today are those of continued growth and development versus some sort of conservator society or steady-state society. The interplay of these competing futures can be expected to be a major conflict in the evolving future in America and most of the industrialized world. Other important factors are, of course, possible. Scenario writing helps inner leaders articulate critical forces and bend them to their purposes.

The scenario writer can consider several different types of scenario writing. One, which can be described as future history, involves taking real events in the past and decisions in the present, showing how those decisions might be made, and then working out a plausible set of consequences. A second type of scenario involves a kind of looking backwards from an imagined future. In this format, the reader is somehow transported into the future where someone asks how the world got this way. Another technique can be compared to a conglomerate. This is a technique whereby the reader is - suddenly - somewhere else; and as he or she examines the environment, things begin to make sense. The fourth form has been called decision consequences. In this technique a problem is presented, and readers are asked to vote on one of several alternatives. The future with the most votes becomes the accepted one. This is a very good way to get people to see the importance of considering the consequences of making certain decisions at the present time.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a mechanism for identifying critical issues that face the work community as it moves toward its future. It is also a tool for developing strategies to cope with these issues. The purpose of strategic planning is to integrate inner leaders' actions and enable them to capitalize on synergies. Strategies are the sources of primary cohesiveness in the work community (Eadie). Strategies may be formed at several levels: global, functional program areas, and implementation. They support directed organizational action (or hamper efforts at excellence) at each level.

The old idea that strategic planning should be done in an ivory tower is bankrupt. Fewer than 10 percent of Americans effectively execute the strategies they or their consultants devised (Kiechel). Now, more internal leaders are taking responsibility for strategic planning. The idea is that the best strategic planning can be done by those leaders who are most intimately associated with the work of the organization. The challenge in strategic planning is to turn leaders into strategic thinkers. The technique provides leaders a language of strategy to use in doing it themselves.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. Inner leaders engage in "problem-finding" more than problem-solving activities.

  2. They select and consistently pay attention to the tasks and values they want and need. This focusing - of self and work community members - is a major inner leadership technique.

  3. Inner leaders develop and articulate a horizon goal, a clear, attractive, compelling view of what life, their work situation, and the individuals involved can or should be like.

  4. Horizon thinking synthesizes, vocalizes, and translates the leader's aspirations into community aspirations.

  5. Horizon thinking is a process these leaders use to create continuously a successful future for the work community.

  6. Horizon thinking provides both leader and led with new perspectives from which to view their work, their operating systems, and their longer-term goals and outcome objectives.

  7. Horizon thinking involves the leader in creating a future for the work community rather than letting the future just happen.

  8. Creating a community's future involves seeking out and understanding the forces for change in the immediate work community, the larger corporation, and the broader cultural environments surrounding the work community.

  9. From data obtained by scanning these environments, inner leaders develop a picture of the work community thriving in the vortex of the change forces identified.

  10. The futures statement is a clear, compelling statement of what the work community should be and do in the future.

  11. Sharing the future involves the leader in communication to persuade, to change the values and the behavior of stakeholders to conform to the future.

  12. Inner leaders sometimes use scenarios - descriptions of one imagined future state of affairs - as a way to communicate their community's future to others.

  13. Strategic planning is also a mechanism for identifying critical issues that face the work community as it moves toward its future.


  1. How often do I link the changes the office is going through now with the changes it will have to face in the future?

  2. What are the basic assumptions underlying horizon thinking?

  3. Do I include recognition of the major larger cultural forces that may impact any horizon thinking I might do to help prepare my work community for the future?

  4. Someone has said that the leader can "create" a future for his or her organization. Do you believe this is true? Why? Why not?

  5. List several obstacles inner leaders face as they try to create a unique future for their work community that may differ from that set for the corporation or by other communities to which the leader's community is linked. How do these factors affect the leader's success in horizon thinking?

Activities Useful To The Leader's Role

Activity 1: Scenario Writing Exercise

Instructions. A scenario is a description of an imagined future state of affairs. Scenarios are a creative way of dealing with future possibilities. They may be presented in various forms or combinations of forms: narratives, feature newspaper stories, data tables, graphic displays, videotape, computer games, and the like. Scenarios include multiple variables - technological, informational, skills, public interest - and depict multiple possibilities.

  1. Using the guidelines contained in this chapter - relevance, usefulness, originality, consistency, and communicability - create a future scenario for your work unit covering the next twenty-five years.

  2. In preparing this scenario,

    Read, study and follow the techniques for scenario writing discussed in the text.

    Select a scenario type (future history, looking backwards, conglomerate, or decision consequences).

    Research relevant trend data, significant events that have happened or may happen to impact data trends, and what significant (trend-shaping ) people think about what might happen - their images of the future.

    Develop several alternative future scenarios.

    Analyze the implications of each scenario.

    Select one alternative future.

  3. Prepare a report describing your scenario for the future of your work community.

  4. Present it to your bosses or others as you see appropriate.

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