Lots of food for thought here: I’m thinking about epistemology, ontology, and Biblical visions of the future in regards to leadership- in these areas, the author and I are not on the same page.
But at the least, this theory corrects one-man-show type of leadership, and argues for a more relational understanding that requires more humility and is more focused on the process than the outcome. This could be an exercise in pendulum swinging, but I find it to be a stimulating counterpoint the typical Maxwell/Hybels leadership mantas.
From Barrett C. Brown, Complexity Leadership: An Overview and Key Limitations:
|Conventional Leadership||Complexity Leadership|
|Leaders specify desired futures.||Leaders provide linkages to emergent structures by enhancing connections among organizational members.|
|Leaders direct change.||Leaders try to make sense of patterns in small changes.|
|Leaders eliminate disorder and the gap between intentions and reality.||Leaders are destabilizers who encourage disequilibrium and disrupt existing patterns of behavior.|
|Leaders influence others to enact desired futures.|| |
Leaders encourage processes that enable emergent order.
Through the lens of conventional leadership, the world is assumed to be knowable and desired organizational futures are considered achievable through focused planning and the use of control mechanisms. Complexity scientists counter that uncertainty is a better starting point. Specifically, they contend that the world is not knowable, systems are not predictable, and living systems cannot be forced along a linear trajectory toward a predetermined future. There are four myths of conventional leadership that are therefore dispelled by the application of complexity sciences: leaders specify desired futures, leaders direct change, leaders eliminate disorder and the gap between intentions and reality; and leader influence others to enact desired futures. The behaviors of emergent leadership, based upon complexity science, which replace these “myths”, are summarized below.
Myth 1: Leaders specify desired futures. Conventional leadership worldviews frame leaders as visionaries, who see the future, chart the destination, and guide their organizations toward that destination. The repeated prescription is to: clarify the organization’s desired future, scan the external environment, design the requisite actions, and remove any obstacles. Complexity theorists suggest that organizational unpredictability often comes from within the organization, through the interactions of its members, which are not controlled by its leader. It is usually organizational members that develop the ideas that lead to productive futures for the organization, arguably a more important source of ideas than the vision of the leader at the top of an organization. Therefore, complex leaders should focus on enabling productive futures rather than controlling them (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). Thus, the “new reality” to replace Myth #1 is that “leaders provide linkages to emergent structures by enhancing connections among organizational members” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 139). This is based upon the complexity theory principle of emergent self-organization, in which the interaction of individual agents, exchange of information amongst them, and continuous adaptation of feedback from each other creates a new system level order.
Myth #2: Leaders direct change. Leadership theorists often contend that the essence of leadership is to lead change (e.g., Kotter, 1996). One of the principles of complexity theory concerns sensitivity to initial conditions. It notes that major, unpredictable consequences can arise out of small fluctuations in initial conditions (Kauffman, 1995). Thus small changes at anytime, anywhere in the system, can cascade and lead to massive change that may be inconsistent with the leader’s change vision. The new reality to replace this myth, then, is that “leaders try to make sense of patterns in small changes” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 141). By detecting and labeling patterns in the midst of emergent change, leaders have a greater chance of helping their organizations to respond effectively.
Myth #3: Leaders eliminate disorder and the gap between intentions and reality. Leaders are typically seen as needing to influence others to accomplish the tasks required to achieve organizational objectives. They are also expected to minimize conflict and cultivate harmonious relationships, such as in the case of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). Complexity theorists contend that organizations are not characterized by stability and harmony, but rather exist on a continuum between stability and instability (Prigogine, 1997; Stacey, 1996). As organizations gravitate toward greater instability, due to destabilizing forces, new, emergent ideas and innovations arise. Therefore, rather than constantly attempting to stabilize an organization, leaders can at times help their organizations to benefit by being a source of disorder and destabilization. The new reality to replace Myth #3 is therefore: “leaders are destabilizers who encourage disequilibrium and disrupt existing patterns of behavior” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 142).
Myth #4: Leaders influence others to enact desired futures. The core of leadership is often considered to be influence. Two assumptions about influence run counter to a principle of complexity science. First, influence is often based upon the assumption that a leader knows what needs to be done and that the leader can subsequently influence those who need it to bring about a desired future state. These notions are, in turn, grounded in assumptions of linearity: that changes in one variable lead to anticipated changes in another. Complexity science, though, is based upon nonlinear interactions, in which multiple agents with varying agendas engage and influence each other’s actions. Nonlinear, living systems can learn, though. With such complexity and uncertainty within organizations, is it impossible for leaders to know and prescribe to others what to do. Instead, organizational members often help leaders to find directions out of confusion and uncertainty. As such, the new reality to replace Myth #4 is: “leaders encourage processes that enable emergent order” (Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009, p. 143). An example would be for a leader to focus on clarifying processes rather than clarifying outcomes, and allow the organizational members to determine the relevant outcomes.