Big Ideas ALA Executive Director’s Letter

Planning 2.0: Future-Minded Leadership

I have always considered myself a planner, but some recent reading has introduced me to a whole other level of planning that interests me greatly, both for its simplicity and researched effectiveness. 

April L. Campbell, JD

It’s known as future-minded leadership, and it can have positive effects on those who practice it. Simply put, it is preparing for possible multiple futures, including potential obstacles and challenges you may encounter on the way. Several articles I have read on this topic mention this mindset helps those who practice it to be less stressed and more successful. It forges resilience in the face of uncertainty.

It is more than daydreaming or doomsaying. You don’t have to be able to predict the future — it’s merely a matter of envisioning the possibilities and the potential paths to them. It allows you to be adaptable and flexible because you have already thought about several future states. You map out the various ways to get there, taking into account some of the potential consequences along the way.

Those of my generation may think of it as one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books where you’re in charge of how the book proceeds. With future-minded leadership, you are the author creating your own options.

The unknown is often the scariest thing of all. Sometimes it paralyzes us to the point where we take no action at all. But when all the futures and their potential have been considered, you’ve done away with the fear of the unknowns. Knowing how others will behave or what the world has in store for us is often a mystery, but when you have already thought about “if this, then that,” everything is a little less stressful to navigate. It fosters a sense of control. It’s contingency planning, and creates a sense of empowerment and agency, something we all need after the endless reactive planning of the last two years. You can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for challenges.

“Different perspectives than your own will likely increase the number of futures you can imagine and all the ways to get there.”

There has always been emphasis on the value and importance of resilience. I used to assume that meant standing your ground in the cases of uncertainty or adversity. I have now come to realize resilience sometimes takes the form of walking away. It has a relationship to adaptability and recognizing one’s own needs.

Learning about future-minded leadership and its relationship to resilience brings to mind a simple analogous situation I recently experienced. I was at the grocery store with a recipe in mind, searching the aisles for the necessary ingredients. Supply chain issues meant they were nowhere to be found. I had to decide if I was going to abandon the recipe altogether and grab some takeout or find a substitute and create something slightly or entirely different. There is no one right answer, but it helps my mental state if I have considered these outcomes before I go to the store, including what choices I will have if things don’t go as planned — and the potential ramifications of those choices. By doing so, I have engaged my ability to adapt to changing environments both inside and outside myself, all the while being perfectly content if I venture outside the original plan.

So give yourself space and time to think, reflect and plan with optimism and pragmatism. As with most things, this is often most effective when you do it not by yourself but with others — whether that’s with a coach, co-workers, friends or your professional network. Different perspectives than your own will likely increase the number of futures you can imagine and all the ways to get there.

I have been listening to your stories and reading your discussions in our Online Community, and I see many of you are already practicing this leadership mindset. You are proactively planning, and it is resulting in higher levels of resilience. Now you know it has a name, and you are ahead of the curve!