Is Anybody in Charge?

Report From the Futurist


Harlan Cleveland, 83, a director of the World Future Society and president emeritus of the World Academy of Art and Science. He is based in Sterling, Virginia.



“We live in a society where nobody is completely in charge of anything. Leaders are managers of complexity, but in a high-tech age, if all information comes from the top, it’s probably ineffective and too late. No grandpa at the helm possesses enough knowledge to make the organization run efficiently. Increased complexity requires that people from all levels of the organization have the freedom to think for themselves — not just obey orders. More than ever, executive leadership means that you have to consult the group and then point the way.”

So what?

“If nobody is in charge, we have to update some fundamental thinking about leadership. Increasingly, the executive’s task is to minimize and clearly define what everyone needs to agree on and to maximize individual choice and ingenuity. The best executives lead by constantly asking questions and then genuinely listening to the answers. In really lively organizations, executives not only delegate work but also control the incentive to imagine.”

Futurology Decoder Key

“We will start to see more entrepreneurs at every level of the organization. The opportunity for individuals to make choices is increasingly driving every aspect of work and life. A move toward more-decentralized networks is good news for individual creativity and productivity, but to maximize employee morale, executive leaders will have to enjoy complexity and constant change. For some, it will seem a burden. But for those who really have what it takes to be CEO, the momentum will carry its own excitement.”

Contact Harlan Cleveland by email (


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