Measuring Foresight in Leadership

The ability to think forward, to foresee possible outcomes and to act accordingly, is a vital human trait. Here is a 45-page paper that reviews the literature on foresight to determine what we can learn. 

Although foresight has existed as a practice and field of study for some time, there is no commonly accepted construct for research in the field. Using the framework of strategic foresight, this article provides a review of literature at the intersection of leadership studies and future studies. After identifying foresight as a leadership behavior, theoretical studies in the published literature are critically reviewed in four areas, a) foresight variables, b) cultural contexts, c) theoretical foundations, and d) assessment measures. The article concludes with various research questions that might aid in building a model to measure foresight in leadership.

A Review of Literature
The ability to think forward, to foresee possible outcomes and to act accordingly, is a vital human trait (Hayward, 2003a). While numerous empirical studies in the area of future time perspective (FTP) have been undertaken among students (Husman & Lens, 1999), few studies have been done in organizational contexts (Seijts, 1998). Workplace studies that have been done have focused on individual workers (Richter, 2003) rather than general managers or chief executives, recognized as strategic leadership (Nachman & Shrivastava, 1989; Yukl, 2002).

The leadership literature has consistently emphasized the importance of creating a shared vision (Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Senge, 1990; Kouzes & Posner 2002) and the strategy literature has viewed foresight as a core competence (Hamel & Prahalad 1994; Courtney, 2001). Yet few theoretical studies have considered how leaders, individually or collectively, cultivate a fluency with the future (Schultz, 1995), or tap into their deepest capacity to sense and shape the emerging future (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski & Flowers, 2004).

The problem facing organizational theorists is that there is no commonly accepted construct for researching foresight. This is despite gains made in futures studies over the past decade in identifying a knowledge base (Bell, 1996; Slaughter, 1999a). Before researchers can measure foresight, various theoretical questions would need to be answered, such as:

1. How does foresight correlate to other human capacities such as reasoning, thinking, learning, imagination, intuition, and creativity?
2. How does foresight relate to its antecedent, hindsight, and how is bias in both reduced?
3. How does foresight correlate with various learning theories, whether action research or experimental learning?
4. Beyond mental functions, how does foresight relate to well-known research in cognitive styles or personality types?
5. How does foresight relate to various lines of intellectual, moral, emotional or ego development?
6. How does foresight relate to organizational functions of strategic leadership, including motivation, visioning, and goal setting, planning, forecasting, and acting?
7. Can a reliable instrument to measure foresight be designed that is suitable for use with leaders?

To advance the development of a foresight model, this article reviews theoretical literature relating to the construct of strategic foresight (Marsh, McAllum & Purcell, 2002). Literature is drawn from academic journals, books, unpublished reports, and personal communications with academic colleagues. Theoretical studies from the fields of leadership, organizational, psychological and future studies are critically compared.

Five sections define the order of this article. Literature is reviewed that a) defines foresight as a leadership behavior, b) enumerates the construct of foresight, c) accounts for the context of foresight, d) roots a foresight model in theory, and e) assesses existing foresight measures. The article concludes with research questions relevant to the construction of a foresight model.

This study is significant in two ways. First, if there was a better understanding of foresight, then leadership could apply that to the art and practice of the Learning Organization (Senge, 1990). Second, a foresight model could contribute to “a postindustrial school of leadership” that would empower leaders to tackle the outstanding problems that the “industrial era was unwilling or unable to solve” (Rost, 1991, p. 182).

Outline: [full paper is not available online]

1. Foresight in Leadership
Defining Foresight
–Foresight is not Prediction
–Defining Strategic Foresight

2. The Construct of Foresight
Future Time Perspective
Hindsight-Foresight Relationship
Foresight as Character Virtues
Foresight as Stage Development

3. The Context of Foresight
Organizational Contexts
–Workplace Context
–Unit of Analysis
–Environmental Orientation
Social Contexts
Ideological Contexts
–Ideological Schools
–Spiritual Communities

4. Theoretical Foundations of Foresight
Transdisciplinary Matrix
Metatheological Clarity

5. Assessing Foresight Inventories
Self-Knowledge Surveys
–Your Futurist IQ
–Future Consciousness Tool
–Competing for the Future
Style Preference Tests
–Foresight Style Assessment
–Kirton Adaptive Innovation Inventory
Correlating to Existing Measures

6. Conclusion

Dr. Jay Gary is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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