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Complexity Leadership Theory

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Complexity Leadership is a new paradigm shift on leadership studies and it becomes more relevant and prevalent due to present day complex situations we are faced as a society. It is an attempt to integrate traditional leadership models with in a complex environment. Some of the complexities considered in formulating Complexity Leadership Theory include: 

Globalization of business operations and technological advances that demand highly competitive new methods to lead workforce remotely and facilitating self-governing mechanisms.

The increase in complex challenges due to significant political or external influences coupled with dynamic interfaces leads to uncertainty and ambiguity. 
Emergence of knowledge dependent and high innovation business operations demands a novel method of leadership in lieu of traditional bureaucratic approaches.

Coupled with knowledge workers - organisations may know what they want to produce but do not know how to build it.

Projects may run over a period which exceeds the technology being used at the start of the project throws out new challenges.

Complexity Leadership Theory is adapted from Complexity Theory, which was initially used to understand complex systems in biology, chemistry, physics and technology. Complexity theory describes leadership dynamics from an entirely new, multi-dimensional perspective, focusing on Organisational System Behaviours. Complexity Leadership Theory adds a view of leadership as a process coupled with chaos, uncertainty and probability through which leadership emerges from the networked interactions of organisational members. (Figure 1) Although it was not designed to serve as a prescriptive model, it has taken into account dynamic interactions in relationships while recognizing leadership is a fundamentally system phenomenon and an emerging event.


Complex Adaptive System 
Complex Adaptive System (CAS) is a basic unit of analysis in complexity science. It is similar to a neural-like network of interacting, interdependent agents who are bonded in a cooperative dynamic by common goals, outlook, need and are dynamically interrelated.  (Figure 2)
CAS is organic, unpredictable and changes in CAS occur nonlinearly and in unexpected situations. 

CLT proposes that CAS, when functioning appropriately could provide an adaptive capability for the organisation and that bureaucracy provides an orienting and coordinating structure.

Hence, CLT is a framework that enables the learning, creative and adaptive capacity of CAS mainly in knowledge-producing organisations such as IT, R&D and innovation. CLT describes three interacting leadership roles: administrative, adaptive and enabling. These three leadership roles represent the necessary and inevitable interaction between an organisation’s bureaucratic, administrative functions and its emergent, informal CAS dynamics.


Administrative leadership 
Administrative leadership is required for hierarchical and bureaucratic functions of an organisation. It is the actions of individuals and groups in formal managerial roles, who plan and coordinate activities to accomplish organisationally-prescribed outcomes in an efficient and effective manner. Examples of tasks that administrative leaders perform include planning, building vision, acquiring resources, managing crises and personal conflicts and managing organisational strategy. Inherent in administrative leadership is the power to make decisions for the organisations, since it is a function based on authority and position. However, under the CLT, administrative leadership should be conscious of its role over the firm’s creative, learning and adaptive capabilities. For example, it should not pursue profitable efficiency in an unstable environment where adaptive capabilities will bring in long-term sustainability.


Adaptive leadership 
Adaptive leadership is defined as an interactive, collaborative, dynamic system that produces adaptive outcomes in a social system. In the battle front, adaptive leadership is an approach to command based on the situation and factors such as mission, soldier capabilities, geography, weaponry and more. This ‘reality on the ground’ approach to leadership can give a leader both a strategic and a tactical exposure. It is strategic because adaptive leadership is more than just reacting to the immediate situation. Adaptive leaders anticipate and employ a broad-based style of command. An adaptive leader takes risks and makes decisions, learn from events and adjust plans accordingly, able to switch from one critical task to another without hesitation.

Adaptive, creative, learning actions originates over conflicting needs, ideas or preferences emerge from the interactions of CAS as they strive to adjust to situations. It is a complex, dynamic and a key source of change in an organisation. Asymmetrical interaction causes adaptive leadership to emerge. A one-sided, authority-based asymmetrical interaction leads to a top-down or bureaucratic leadership event but asymmetry that is less one-sided and driven by differences in preference will lead to a leadership event more based on interactive dynamics. Differences in preference will foster adaptive change outcomes, since conflicting ideas, knowledge and technologies inspire new knowledge, creative ideas and learning. An example of this is gaining new understanding of a situation when debating an opposing perspective. Recognition of adaptive leadership occurs when it has significance and impact. Significance in this context is defined by the expertise of those who generated the adaptive moment and by their capacity for creative thinking. Impact is influenced by the authority and reputation of the agents in question, by the degree to which the implications of the idea are understood or by the degree of success it has in generating enough support to create an impact.




Enabling leadership 
Enabling leadership in the CLT seeks to cultivate conditions that catalyse adaptive leadership. Enabling Leadership manages entanglement between administrative and adaptive functions of an organisation. It promotes these networks by fostering interaction and interdependency and by injecting productive tension. Interaction, creating the network across which information moves, is the first catalyst of ideal network conditions. While enabling leaders cannot create the connections that lead to an effective network, they can create the general structure of complex networks and the conditions that will allow them to develop from an organisational level (e.g., open architecture work places, self-selected work groups, electronic work groups). 

At the strategic level, enabling leadership helps promote interactions between organisational CAS and environmental dynamics. This enables the use of new information into the creative dynamic and it increases the organisation’s capacity to adapt to environmental changes and conditions. Individual agents can act in an enabling role by widening their personal networks, monitoring their environment and keeping themselves informed of issues important to the firm and its field.


Applications of CLT
It generates learning, adaptability, innovations and facilitates group dynamics and problem solving.

Leaders use participative and communicative style to understand and manage the complex organisational networks and systems. 

Leaders must apply collaborative skills, understanding psychological and organisational dimensions thus they become organisational architect and systems thinkers and enablers of learning within teams.

(This is the 26th column of the leadership series by Eng. Gamini Nanda Gunawardana [BSc Eng (Hons), MBA, CEng, FIE (SL), MCS (SL), MIDPM (UK), FIAP (UK), MBCS (UK)], a Management, HR, OD and ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Executive Coach, Consultant - HRD - Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd. He can be contacted at gamining@gmail.com)   
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