Investigating the foresight and strategic thinking capabilities of Australian agricultural leaders: A mixed methods work-based study

Doctorate other than PhD

Perez, Eric. 2022. Investigating the foresight and strategic thinking capabilities of Australian agricultural leaders: A mixed methods work-based study. Doctorate other than PhD Doctor of Professional Studies. University of Southern Queensland.

Investigating the foresight and strategic thinking capabilities of Australian agricultural leaders: A mixed methods work-based study

TypeDoctorate other than PhD
AuthorPerez, Eric
1. FirstA/Pr Luke van der Laan
2. SecondPatrick Hone
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Professional Studies
Number of Pages259
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Australian agricultural leaders are facing volatile markets both domestically and internationally. The market and socio-economic dynamics of the Asia Pacific region will place new demands on these Australian leaders to respond to change, devise strategies to effectively operate and identify possible futures. To date, academic inquiry regarding foresight and strategic thinking as critical leader capabilities has been rare. There is also a dearth of literature that provides insights regarding these capabilities in the context of the Australian agriculture sector.

Strategic leadership theory suggests that the abilities and characteristics of leaders reflect how an organisation or industry will appear in the future. The appearance of an industry in the future is characterised by agricultural leaders that understand their capabilities with respect to strategy and possible, realisable futures. As such, foresight and strategic thinking are capability proxies that can help understand the future of an organisation or industry. Furthermore, having a baseline of these critical leader capabilities can inform practice and capacity building within the Australian agriculture sector. The baseline in this study reflects the current baseline strategic thinking and foresight profile amongst Australian agricultural leaders in this study.

Foresight and strategic thinking capabilities are complex constructs. Specifically, these capabilities have been examined as critical amongst strategy level leaders. For the purpose of this research, foresight and strategic thinking are defined as: • Foresight is a human ability to creatively envision possible futures, understand the complexity and ambiguity of systems and provide input for the taking of provident care in detecting and avoiding hazards while envisioning desired futures; and • Strategic thinking is the synthesis of systematic analysis (rational) and creative (generative) thought processes that seek to determine the longer-term direction of the organisation.

The purpose of the study is to make an original knowledge contribution to professional practice by developing an industry benchmark to inform the development of leader capabilities that are futures focussed. As an explanatory study, it answered research questions regarding foresight and strategic thinking capabilities, their links to strategy formulation and leader training in the Australian agriculture sector based on an identified gap in the literature.

This study adopted an explanatory sequential design and was operationalised in two research phases. • Quantitative research included – the use of a validated and reliable survey to determine a baseline foresight and strategic thinking profile amongst Australian agricultural leaders; and • Qualitative research included the use of a Delphi method seeking expert input and feedback to triangulate the findings of Phase 1 of the research.

The survey data in Phase 1 was analysed using descriptive statistics, correlation analysis and exploratory factor analysis (EFA). In Phase 2, a thematic analysis was applied.

The research yielded an indicative baseline of the foresight and strategic thinking capabilities of Australian agricultural leaders which is summarised as follows: • Agricultural leaders are dominantly focussed on the present; • Agricultural leaders are mostly focussed on current operational and market concerns while showing some consideration of possible futures; and • In terms of strategic thinking, agricultural leaders predominantly adopt an analytical approach, with a limited focus on conceptual / generative inputs in terms of strategy development.

Strategy development was identified as a ‘top-down’ process. Conversely, agricultural leaders favouring a collaborative approach but are constrained in terms of anticipating significant change and generating innovative ideas. The findings regarding strategy formulation revealed that employees in the agriculture sector had limited influence on the formulation of strategy.

The outcomes observed related to industry leadership training were that training provided an opportunity to engage in critical thinking, and chances to lead behaviour change. Training had multiple benefits and allowed leaders to develop skills and iii abilities such as applying objective judgement, decision-making, developing participatory leadership openness, and communication skills. Training was also cited as desirable and beneficial in building future possibilities and strategic decision-making. Encouraging leader futures-focused development was considered both an individual and organisational priority and responsibility. While generic leader capability building was valued, industry-specific leader development was considered an essential element of training.

KeywordsStrategic thinking, foresight, Strategic Leadership Theory
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350718. Strategy
350714. Public sector organisation and management
350707. Leadership
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Education
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