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Description Including Abstract(s) & Bio(s) (if available) for Concurrent Session# 87 

CS8 Saturday, Oct. 29, 10:45 - 12:00     Plaza Suite 12

Session Type: Panel Presentation     Accepted by Track(s): Conference Theme     Time Allotted: 75

One Complex Planet, Many Emerging Worlds: Remapping the Purposes of Leadership in the 21st Century

Description: We are, according to Stephen Hawking, living in the century of complexity. What does this mean for leadership in the 21st Century? The aim of this interactive panel session is to provide an overview of complexity frameworks, reflect on the interrelationships between contemporary leadership practices and the challenges of complexity, and discuss research implications.

Abstract: Stephen Hawking reminds us that we are currently leading, learning and living in “the century of complexity” (2000). According to IBM’s study of over 1,500 global CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries (Berman & Korsten 2010), complexity is the most significant challenge for organisations in the next five years and one for which they are not equipped to cope effectively.

The aim of this interactive panel session is to reflect on the interrelationships between contemporary leadership practices and the challenges of complexity. In particular, we will explore complex social processes that are key to a worldly leadership perspective (Gosling & Mintzberg 2003; Turnbull 2009), necessary for working productively and purposefully in the 21st century. This session provides an overview of useful frameworks to surface and make sense of the notion of complexity.

We cannot tame complexity by trying to order it or reduce it to its lowest common denominator. Yet in the context of leadership we are often still being influenced by thinking that was appropriate for simple and complicated contexts, such as heroic leadership and command and control management practices, which draw on industrial era hegemony of the machine age. Now we must look to values, mindsets, strategies and actions that work with complexity and chaos and the volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity of the 21st century. Who would have anticipated, for instance, an awakening Arab world played out before our eyes on social media as calls for emancipation toppled entrenched leaders. To this end, there is a growing desire for leaders, their organisations and the society they serve to recognise their world as interconnected — with each other and the planet.

Complex and complicated domains are features of many social systems and models (see for example, Waldrop 1992; Kurtz & Snowden 2003; Hames 2007; Miller & Page 2007; Uhl-Bien et al. 2007; Goldstein et al. 2010; Obolensky 2010). Understanding and acting in harmony with these different domains is an important leadership attribute, as Miller and Page (2007) explain:

"When a scientist faces a complicated world, traditional tools that rely on reducing the system to its atomic elements allow us to gain insight. Unfortunately, using these same tools to understand complex worlds fails, because it becomes impossible to reduce the system without killing it. The ability to collect and pin to a board all of the insects that live in the garden does little to lend insight into the ecosystem contained therein" (Miller & Page 2007, p. 10).

This session of four panellists takes up the One Planet, Many Worlds stream invitation to contribute to a discourse intent on aligning political, business, educational, social and public leadership to appropriate leadership and governance. It does this by recognising that we live in a society not just an economy, and that matters of financial, social and environmental governance are equally important. This session will feature current research projects from the UK, USA and Australia that, like the Capitalizing on Complexities report (Berman & Korsten 2010), have recognised the imperative to name the intangible link between 21st century leadership and complexity. The panel begins the conversation by showing what is happening now in current research intent on working with these conditions rather than trying to order, tame or reduce them. It does this by also critiquing our unhealthy reliance on the illusion of certainty, a throwback perhaps from an earlier era, as James contends:

"Anthropologists use social data and models from the past to provide a frame or a context for the future. The details of millions of years of history and hundreds of societies reveal patterns. When you understand these patterns of the past, culture is often the last system to adapt. Vestiges of old beliefs hang on long after the technological, economic and demographic systems have changed" (James 1996, p. 22).

Each presenter in this session will share theoretical frameworks or ways of working with complexity and how these apply to their current leadership research projects. The, first, a practitioner from the UK, will begin by providing an overview of key concepts and approaches to complexity leadership with BEYOND METAPHOR: PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF COMPLEXITY THEORY. Taking up a challenge from Burnes (2005), the presenter asks whether leaders and educators are still treating complexity theory as a source of interesting metaphors, rather than as a profound challenge to their day-to-day lives. The presentation is illustrated by examples from healthcare, the Harvard Business Review and faith communities. The next presenter is a researcher from the US. STRUCTURE, EMERGENCE, AND DIALOGUE: A COMPLEXITY VIEW OF ORGANIZATIONS AS TURBULENT CONTAINERS FOR DIALOGUE AND CHANGE, suggests a normative view of change grounded in a symbiotic relationship between individuals and the environmental structures they have constituted through dialogue. Building upon the view of organizations as complex adaptive systems (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007), the presentation looks to the notion of autopoietic organizational transformation (Maturana & Varela, 1980; Goldspink & Kay, 2009) to view change as a normative state that moves through the emergent nature of dialogue. The final two presenters, doctoral students researching higher education sector leadership in the UK and Australia, draw on case studies from this sector. Firstly, from the UK, ATTENTIONAL PERSPECTIVES OVER EXECUTIVE TENURES offers insights into the mounting complexities over successive tenures in one top institution’s history through the lenses of complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien et al. 2007) and strategy as practice. Finally, an Australian perspective with COMPLEXITY AND RISK IN UNIVERSITIES IN AUSTRALIA: ARE THERE EMERGING LEADERSHIP LITERACIES FOR KNOWLEDGE ENTERPRISES IN TIMES OF FLUX? will apply the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) complexity model (Johansen 2009) and consider values, mindsets and actions appropriate for contemporary leadership, where knowledge is the main driver of growth and prosperity.

The intent of this panel session is to spark conversations with ILA members to find pathways through the complexity and turbulence besetting leaders today. An integral component of this session therefore is an invitation to practitioners and scholars to contribute to the open forum after the presentations.

Berman, S. & Korsten, P. 2010. Capitalising on complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Study. Portsmouth, UK, IBM Institute for Business Value.
Burnes, B. 2005. Complexity theories and organizational change. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7(2), pp. 73-90.
Goldspink, C. & Kay, C. (2010). Emergence in organizations: The reflexive turn. Emergence: Complexity and Organizations, 3, pp. 47-63.
Goldstein, J., Hazy, J. K., & Lichtenstein, B. B. 2010. Complexity and the nexus of leadership: leveraging nonlinear science to create ecologies of innovation. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
Gosling, J. & Mintzberg, H. 2003. The Five Minds of a Manager. Harvard Business Review, 81(11), pp. 54 - 63.
Hames, R. D. 2007. The five literacies of global leadership: what authentic leaders know and you need to find out. Chichester, England, Jossey-Bass.
Hawking, S. 2000. San Jose Mercury News. San Jose. (23 January)
James, J. 1996. Thinking in the future tense: a workout for the mind. New York, Simon & Schuster.
Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Kurtz, C. F. & Snowden, D. J. 2003. The new dynamics of strategy: sense-making in a complex and complicated world. IBM Systems Journal, 42(3), pp. 462 - 83.
Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1992). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding Rev ed.). Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Miller, J. H. & Page, S. E. 2007. Complexity in social worlds, Complex adaptive systems: an introduction to computational models of social life, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, pp. 9-31.
Obolensky, N. 2010. Complex adaptive leadership: embracing paradox and uncertainty. Farnham, Gower.
Turnbull, S. 2009. "Worldly" leadership for a global world. In M. Harvey & J. D. Barbour (Eds.), Global leadership: portraits of the past, visions for the future, Maryland: International Leadership Association / University of Maryland, pp. 82-94.
Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. 2007. Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), pp. 298-318.
Waldrop, M. M. 1992. Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. New York, Simon & Schuster.

    Complexity and Risk in Universities in Australia: Are There Emerging Leadership Literacies for Knowledge Enterprises in Times of Flux?

    Description: Leadership literacies for the knowledge era enterprise rest on humanist principles of Servant Leadership theory and interconnect with sustainability and complexity through the premise that leadership is not set apart from the living systems—human and environmental—that we serve. Leaders also understand that these living systems are dynamic, emergent, and unpredictable.

    Abstract: (4th Presenter) Although only history can ultimately confirm it to be true, anecdotal evidence suggests that we are witnessing new times framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation, massification of education and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability. Added to these complexities is a reliance on the certitude of risk assessment and management that pervades the sector. However, the greatest risk to universities in Australia, as elsewhere, are changes to government policy, particularly when these policy changes reduce funding in an already underperforming knowledge nation (Considine et al. 2001; Wood 2003).

    These times of change and uncertainty call for different and deeper ways of thinking about our world, our worldviews and our leadership practices. We find ourselves today, in the second decade of the 21st century, well and truly embedded in the knowledge era. Here universities are both sites of knowledge work and in the business of knowledge acquisition and dissemination and therefore can be seen as both drivers and vehicles of knowledge production, the main economic driver of growth in this knowledge-intensive era. Leading productively and promoting a culture of learning and performance are therefore vital to the sector and the society it serves.

    Complexity theories (see for example, Waldrop 1992; Kurtz & Snowden 2003; Uhl-Bien et al. 2007; Obolensky 2010) are one way to surface these issues and make our thinking visible and encourage dialogue about the turbulent and challenging conditions we are experiencing. Through the lenses of complexity theory and proximal modes of understanding (Cooper & Law 1993) we see other ways of understanding the world unfettered by an ideology of neo-liberalism. Instead, these world views rest on an assumption that complex social processes underpin our complex planet and our emerging worlds because they explicate the processes that lead to results, not just the results in isolation:

    "…taken-for-granted states of being, human or organizational, are products or effects of complex social processes. And if we want to understand them, we need a sociology of becoming…Proximal thinking views organizations as mediating networks, as circuits of continuous contact and motion—more like assemblages of organizings...organizations so conceived are really effects created by a set of mediating measuring instruments" (Cooper & Law 1993, pp. 238-40).

    One concept of leadership that resonates well for universities and other knowledge-intensive enterprises and that work with the conditions already described is that “leaders are in the business of energy management” (Kets de Vries 2003). This definition privileges a view that that leadership is deeply tied to the sustainable use of our creative energies. It also elevates the judicious governance of energy of self, others and the environment alongside, not subordinate to, financial governance and into a triple bottom line (Elkington 1998) approach to governance.

    Leadership literacies for the knowledge era rest on humanist principles of Servant Leadership theory (Greenleaf 1977) and interconnect to the domains of sustainability and complexity through the premise that leadership is not set apart from the living systems—human and environmental—that we serve. Leaders also understand that these living systems are dynamic, emergent and unpredictable (Davis 2010). Leadership literacies for the knowledge era enterprise also expand the notion of leadership to incorporate the process of leadership alongside post industrial and post heroic understandings of how leaders and followers (Chaleff 2009; Ladkin 2010), customers and other stakeholders contribute to the knowledge enterprise. Leadership therefore is deeply personal yet paradoxically all about what can be achieved collectively with everyone inside enterprise’s circle of leadership.

    Further to presenting these emerging trends for leadership in knowledge era enterprises this presentation will share preliminary findings from a current PhD study investigating whether or not leadership literacies appropriate for the knowledge era are being practiced in universities in Australia today. These ‘leadership literacies for the knowledge era’ and their focus on complexity, sustainability (Dunphy et al. 2007) and servant leadership (Greenleaf 1977; Spears & Lawrence 2002; Sendjaya et al. 2008) theory will be further explored through the preliminary findings of this research. Complex Adaptive Systems theory will be used to as a way of recognising the cognitive leaps needed to attune mindsets to appropriate way of thinking about leadership appropriate for the knowledge era and the turbulent times that beset the 21st century. For example, one key element of Complex Adaptive Systems theory is to understand the world as an interconnected system and that “each of these systems is a network of many “agents” acting in parallel” (Holland, in Waldrop 1992, p. 145). Some of these “agents acting in parallel” have come together as panellists for this session and are also indicated by the similarities of the themes from this PhD research project from Australia which began in 2008 and the findings from the IBM research report “Capitalising on complexity” (Berman & Korsten 2010).

    As well as outlining the preliminary findings from my PhD study, this presentation will focus on a different complexity theory than those outlined by the other presenters in this panel discussion. The VUCA movement (Johansen 2009) encapsulates the turbulence—the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity—that mark the 21st century within a VUCA acronym thereby ‘taming’ it to some extent and suggesting ways of working with VUCA rather than feeling powerless in the face of it.

    Berman, S. & Korsten, P. 2010. Capitalising on complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Study. Portsmouth, UK, IBM Institute for Business Value.
    Chaleff, I. 2009. The courageous follower: standing up to and for our leaders. (3rd ed.) San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.
    Considine, M., Marginson, S., Sheehan, P., & Kumnick, M. 2001. The comparative performance of Australia as a knowledge nation. Sydney, Chifley Research Centre.
    Cooper, R. & Law, J. 1993. Organization: Distal and Proximal Views. In S. B. Bacharach & P. Gagliardi & B. Mundell (Eds.), Research in the sociology of organizations: Studies of Organizations in the European Tradition, Vol. 13, Greenwich, Conn: JAI Press, pp. 275-301.
    Davis, H. 2010. The sustainability zeitgeist as a GPS for Worldly Leadership within the discourse of globalisation, European Academy of Management 10th Annual Conference: Back to the future. Rome, EURAM.
    Dunphy, D. C., Griffiths, A., & Benn, S. 2007. Organizational change for corporate sustainability: a guide for leaders and change agents of the future. (2nd ed.) Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.
    Elkington, J. 1998. Cannibals with forks: the triple bottom line of 21st century business. Gabriola Island, BC ; Stony Creek, CT, New Society Publishers.
    Greenleaf, R. K. 1977. Servant leadership: a journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, Paulist Press.
    Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
    Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2003. Leaders, fools and imposters: essays on the psychology of leadership. (Rev ed.) New York, iUniverse Inc.
    Kurtz, C. F. & Snowden, D. J. 2003. The new dynamics of strategy: sense-making in a complex and complicated world. IBM Systems Journal, 42(3), pp. 462 - 83.
    Ladkin, D. 2010. What goes on in the relationship between leaders and followers?, Rethinking leadership: a new look at old leadership questions, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 55-74.
    Obolensky, N. 2010. Complex adaptive leadership: embracing paradox and uncertainty. Farnham, Gower.
    Sendjaya, S., Sarros, J. C., & Santora, J. C. 2008. Defining and Measuring Servant Leadership Behaviour in Organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 45(2), pp. 402 - 24.
    Spears, L. C. & Lawrence, M. 2002. Focus on leadership: servant-leadership for the twenty-first century. New York, J. Wiley & Sons.
    Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. 2007. Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), pp. 298-318.
    Waldrop, M. M. 1992. Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. New York, Simon & Schuster.
    Wood, J. 2003. Australia: an under performing knowledge nation? Journal of Intellectual Capital, 4(2), pp. 144 - 64.

      Heather Davis, School of Management, RMIT
      Bio: Heather Davis, BBus, (RMIT), Master of Professional Education & Training (Deakin), is a PhD Candidate with the School of Management, RMIT, Australia. Heather is a member of the ILA. Prior to full time PhD candidature, Heather was the Research Manager in a Faculty of Education for 10 years, and prior to that worked for several years as a Community Programs Manager and trainer in adult education. Heather’s PhD study is investigating whether leadership literacies for the knowledge era are being practiced and theorized in higher education in Australia. The PhD project website at contains links to her research blog and publications emanating from this study.

    Beyond Metaphor: Practical Implications of Complexity Theory

    Description: Some concepts from complexity theory have passed into everyday language (edge of chaos, tipping point), yet the language is still opaque to many. The presenter will highlight three key concepts of this theory which have particular implications for leaders: attractors, emergence, and self-organisation. This presentation will challenge leaders to move beyond complexity theory as a source of metaphors to practical engagement with such leadership questions.

    Abstract: (1st Presenter) At one level, it is possible to argue that complexity theory has 'come of age' in leadership studies. We have seen an award-winning article in the Harvard Business Review (Snowden & Boone, 2007) and the publication during 2011 of a major Handbook on this theme (Allen et al, forthcoming). And yet, it is also possible to argue that many leaders and those involved in leadership development have not yet grasped the full implications of a world viewed through the lenses of complexity theories. Taking up a question from an earlier review article (Burnes, 2005), we can ask whether leaders and educators are still treating complexity theory as a source of interesting metaphors, rather than as a profound challenge to their day-to-day life. This presentation will examine, for example, developments to the Cynefin framework proposed by Snowden & Boone (2007) to ask whether some are attempting to domesticate this non linear framework by turning chaos into a comfortable 2x2 matrix.

    Some concepts from complexity theory have passed into everyday language (edge of chaos, tipping point), yet the language is still opaque to many. This session begins by looking at some of the key concepts associated with complexity theory, highlighting three, which have particular implications for leaders: attractors, emergence and self-organisation. McMillan (2008) provides a good historical review, while Cicmil et al (2009) provide useful bibliographical details. Having established this background, it is possible to examine the current global situation from the standpoint of complexity theory. Beinhocker (2006) provides the conceptual approach to economics, while Stacey (2010) lays down significant challenges. Contemporary events in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries can also be viewed from a complexity perspective.

    After looking at a macro level, some key disciplines will be examined, which are being impacted by, and are impacting upon, complexity theory. This will start with some basic questions of philosophy (Niekerk & Buhl, 2004; Cilliers & Preiser, 2010), moving on to Chia & Holt (2009), who combine philosophical questions with practical implications for strategy. Applications in psychology (Guastello et al, 2009) and sociology (Miller & Page, 2007) will also be noted.

    The heart of the paper is provided by offering critical reflections on the use of complexity theory to leadership in a number of fields. Noting the seminal contribution of Uhl-Bien et al. (2007), an examination will be made of contrasting contemporary applications from each side of the Atlantic (Goldstein et al, 2010; Obolensy, 2010). Is there a convergence or divergence of views, encouraged or masked by a common language? What do leaders really do in the light of this, noting the power of small things in day-to-day encounters, conversations and relationships?

    A number of case studies in organizational change (Olson & Eoyang, 2001, Tsoukas & Chia, 2002, Shaw & Stacey, 2006) will be presented to critique notions of control and a Newtonian cause and effect paradigm. The power, and dangers, of attractors are examined in relation to charismatic and post-heroic leaders. Emergence and self-organisation with respect to distributed leadership, highlighting both positive and negative features will also be addressed.

    Contrasting Newtonian and post-Newtonian approaches through recent developments applying complexity theory to project management (Cicmil et al, 2009; Curlee & Gordon, 2011), the current state of debate will be reviewed, with pointers to likely developments. A number of case studies from the private, public and third sectors offer further insights. Streatfield (2001) reflects on the pharmaceutical industry, while Sweeney (2006) reviews healthcare. Stacey & Griffin (2006) collect experiences from a number of public sector organisations, while Morrison (2002) focuses on school leadership. Keel (2007) provides an example of developments in faith communities.

    Drawing these threads together, it is argued that too many of the above developments are taking place in functional or disciplinary silos ("many worlds"). A more integrative approach is needed ("one planet"). Ecological approaches to leadership (Western 2008) may help, but need to be taken further (Goldspink & Kay, nd; Norberg & Cumming, 2008). In particular, the implications for leaders arising from complexity theory are of immediate concern and go beyond metaphors. Anthills and flocks of birds have their place in introducing key concepts, but leaders need to move beyond such metaphors in grasping the practical implications of leading in a networked world. This presentation provides encouragement and some practical guidance for such endeavours.

    Peter Allen, Steve Maguire & Bill McKelvey, eds (forthcoming). The Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management. Sage.
    Eric D Beinhocker (2006). The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Harvard Business School Press.
    Bernard Burnes (2005). Complexity Theories and Organizational Change. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7(2), 73-90.
    Robert CH Chia & Robin Holt (2009) Strategy Without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action. Cambridge UP.
    Svetlana Cicmil et al, eds (2009) Exploring the Complexity of Projects: Implications of Complexity Theory for Project Management Practice. PMI.
    Paul Cilliers & Rika Preiser (2010) Complexity, Difference and Identity: An Ethical Perspective. Springer.
    Wanda Curlee & Robert L Gordon (2011) Complexity Theory and Project Management. Wiley.
    Chris Goldspink & Robert Kay (nd) 'Towards a Socio-ecological View of Emergence: The Reflexive Turn' [Emergent Publications?]
    Jeffrey Goldstein, James K Hazy & Benyamin B Lichtenstein (2010) Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership: Leveraging Nonlinear Science to Create Ecologies of Innovation. Palgrave.
    Stephen J Guastello, Matthijs Koopmans & David Pincus, eds (2009). Chaos and Complexity in Psychology: The Theory of Nonlinear Dynamical Systems. Cambridge UP.
    Tim Keel (2007). Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor and Chaos. Baker.
    Elizabeth McMillan (2008) Complexity, Management and the Dynamics of Change: Challenges for Practice. Routledge.
    John H Miller & Scott E Page (2007) Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life. Princeton UP.
    Keith Morrison (2002). School Leadership and Complexity Theory. Routledge-Falmer.
    Kees van Kooten Niekerk & Hans Buhl, eds (2004). The Significance of Complexity: Approaching a Complex World through Science, Theology and the Humanities. Ashgate.
    Jon Norberg & Graeme S Cumming, eds (2008). Complexity Theory for a Sustainable Future. Columbia UP.
    Nick Obolensky (2010). Complex Adaptive Leadership: Embracing Paradox and Uncertainty. Gower.
    Edwin E Olson & Glenda H Eoyang (2001) Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
    Patricia Shaw & Ralph Stacey, eds (2006). Experiencing Risk, Spontaneity and Improvisation in Organizational Change. Routledge.
    David J Snowden & Mary E Boone (2007) 'A Leader's Framework for Decision Making', Harvard Business Review, (November), pp 1-8.
    Ralph Stacey & Douglas Griffin, eds (2006). Complexity and the Experiencing of Managing in Public Sector Organizations. Routledge.
    Ralph D Stacey (2010). Complexity and Organizational Reality: Uncertainty and the Need to Rethink Management after the Collapse of Investment Capitalism, 2nd edn. Routledge.
    Philip J Streatfield (2001). The Paradox of Control in Organizations. Routledge.
    Kieran Sweeney (2006). Complexity in Primary Care: Understanding Its Value. Radcliffe Medical Press.
    Haridimos Tsoukas & Robert Chia (2002) 'On Organizational Becoming: Rethinking Organizational Change'. Organization Science, 13, pp 567-582.
    Mary Uhl-Bien, Russ Marion & Bill McKelvey (2007) 'Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting Leadership from the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Era'. Leadership Quarterly, 18, pp 298-318.
    Simon Western (2008) Leadership: A Critical Text. Sage.

      Tim Harle, Human Insight Ltd
      Bio: Tim Harle is an Associate Consultant at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England and a Guest Lecturer at IEDC Bled School of Management, Slovenia. He has worked at senior levels in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Tim has published several articles on leadership and change, informed by complexity theory and attachment theory. His article ‘Fractal Leadership: Emerging Patterns for Transformation’ was included in the ILA’s 2011 Building Leadership Bridges volume. A graduate of Cambridge University, Tim undertook advanced management studies at INSEAD.

    Structure, Emergence, and Dialogue: A Complexity View of Organizations as Turbulent Containers for Dialogue and Change

    Description: This presentation will focus on complexity and change in organizations in times of flux. As complexity-influenced organizational theories gain acceptance and these initiatives begin to move beyond mere metaphors toward actionable objectives, a key area still needing further development is how change itself will be conceptualized within complex adaptive systems.

    Abstract: (2nd Presenter) This presentation will explore the idea that current popular conceptions of the organization—a view that privileges structure over fluidity and rational linearity over ambiguity—can be recast in a frame that engages the organization as a complex organic system experienced via form and substance arising through the moment-to-moment interplay of dialogue and change. This reframing, in fact, amounts to a shift from old-order, positivist notions of rationalism and fixity toward a complexity-based model of nonlinear, emergent self-organization, wherein organizations are understood as “circuits of continuous contact and motion” (Cooper and Law, 1995) and, as such, the product of change itself (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002).

    Central to this thesis is the understanding of organizations as complex adaptive systems (Dooley, 1997; Boisot Child, 1999; Miller and Page, 2007). This is a departure from the traditional metaphors of the organization (Morgan, 2006) that have informed discourse and practice that viewed organizations as rational (Western, 2008), inert, monolithic structures, and as Weick (2000) has suggested, are “subject to redirection only by the application of a substantial set of forces” (p. 229). As the development of organizations (Sonnert and Commons, 1994) became increasingly mediated by the chaotic (Gleick, 1987) nature of rapidly-shifting, highly interdependent global landscapes (Pla-Barber and Alegre, 2010) new frames of reference were needed that could constructively accommodate the pursuit of rational objectives within environments characterized by non-linearity, turbulence (DiBernardo, 2010; Boal and Schultz, 2007) and unanticipated shifts in goals, methods and resources.

    The application of complexity theory to such contexts (Miller and Page, 2007) appears to provide an effective response to environments where—as Uhl-Bien, Marion , & McKelvey (2007) observe--“agents, events, and ideas bump into each other in somewhat unpredictable fashion [such that] change emerges from this dynamic interactive process” (p. 302). This view also finds support in Weick’s (2000) contention that once organizations are recast as dynamic, rather than fixed entities a “more meaningful story of organizations, organizing, and change can be told” (p. 230). With their complexity leadership theory, Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey have in fact advanced a more meaningful story in the form of a fully-realized model of organizations as complex adaptive systems, a framework which helps establish a de-problematized approach to change and what is commonly apprehended as it’s disruptive nature.

    As complexity-influenced organizational theories continue to gain more acceptance and these initiatives begin to move beyond mere metaphors toward actionable objectives, a key area still needing further development is how change itself will be conceptualized (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002) within complex adaptive systems. Many theorists, such as Uhl-Bien, Marion, and McKelvey (2007) still see change as emerging via the confluence of individuals and structures normatively situated in states of inertia and stability; however a growing body of work from British organizational theorists Robert Cooper & John Law (1995) and Haridimos Tsoukas & Robert Chia (2002) as well as New Zealanders Chris Goldspink and Robert Kay (2009, 2010) proposes a new more dynamic conception that views change as the organization’s normative state, instead of stability. As Tsoukas and Chia suggest “[c]hange must not be thought of as a property of organization. Rather, organization must be understood as an emergent property of change. Change is ontologically prior to organization—is is the condition of possibility of organization” (p. 570).

    This perspective now opens the possibility for a new frame of meaning wherein the fixed, stable nature of organizations is exposed as little more than an archaic metaphor. By disentangling theoretical and material discourse from paradigms of fixity, scholars and practitioners are free to engage with the vital potentiality of the temporal phenomenon commonly referred to as “an organization”. This perspective, in turn, asks participants to theoretically adopt a kind of “double vision” where change exists within the dynamic container of the organization as both the fundamental process as well as the primary building block. Such “double vision” could also outfit both theorists and practitioners with a far more refined ability to discern the “subtle micro-changes” (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002, p. 568) which are in constant dialogue between organizational actors and their environments (Juarerro, 2010). In turn, this focus on the organization’s capacity for perpetual emergence (Goldspink and Kay, 2010) suggests a reframing of Maturana and Varela’s (1992) concept of organic self-replication—or autopoiesis—more appropriate to the organizational milieu. Moreover it has been theorized (Goldspink and Kay, 2009) that the view of organizations as autopoietic systems creates a greater appreciation for how changes, as such, “arise and are maintained in linguistic phenomenal domains” (p. 6). Such a turn then suggests that organizations will utilize principles of complex self-organization to continually reconstitute themselves through the agental/structural interplay of dialogue (Bohm, 1996; Ford, 1999).

    In summary, this presentation will attempt to unite scholars, practitioners and students by recognizing an emerging model of organizational change based upon a developing framework of actionable initiatives drawn on interdisciplinary exploration of scholars and theorists in the processes of change, organizational emergence, the self-organization of organic systems, and the utilization of dialogue as a mediating construct amongst such processes. By reconceptualizing organizations, change, and dialogue in this manner organizational thinkers and practitioners are afforded the opportunity to move beyond old-order, positivist notions of rationalism and fixity toward a complexity-based model of emergent self-organization, wherein organizations can be viewed as dynamic sites of “ongoing actions in heterogeneous fields of tension, as happenings—on the wing, so to speak ” (Cooper and Law, 1995, pp. 271-272).

    Boal, K. & Schlultz, P. (2007) Storytelling, time, and evolution: The role of strategic leadership in complex adaptive systems, The Leadership Quarterly 3, 411–428.
    Bohm, D. (1996) On dialogue. New York: Routledge.
    Boisot, M., & Child, J. (1999) Organizations as adaptive systems in complex environments: The case of China. Organization Science, 3, 237-252.
    Cooper, R., & Law, J. (1995) Organization: Distal and Proximal Views. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 13: 237-274.
    DiBernardo, M. (2010) Natural selection and self-organization in complex adaptive systems. Rivista Di Biologia - Biology Forum, 1, 89-110.
    Dooley, K. J. (1997) A complex adaptive systems model of organization change. Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, 1, 69-97.
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      David Holzmer, Union Institute & University
      Bio: David Holzmer is a third year doctoral candidate in The Union Institute and University’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Ethical and Creative Leadership. He currently works in the U.S. as an administrator in a nonprofit social service organization and looks forward to a career assisting organizations in all sectors develop more effective and sustainable leadership and change practices. A true interdisciplinarian, David holds an MPA in Nonprofit Leadership, a BA in Theater Arts, is a published poet, a former massage therapist, and he spent some years working in a hardware store. David’s primary interest is in discovering what complexity theory has to teach us about the relationship between dialogue and higher states of development in human and organizational systems. His objective is to help organizations create environments that effectively navigate rapidly-shifting global as well as interpersonal landscapes while simultaneously nurturing the dynamics that support human flourishing.

    An Attention-Based View of Knowledge-Intensive Organisations: Zeitgeist Leadership and Complex Realities

    Description: A longitudinal case study of successive leadership in a complex strategic business unit that explores how business school deans strategise within a discourse of increasing marketization. How do the leaders pay attention to complex realities during their tenures?

    Abstract: (3rd Presenter) This paper focuses on the complexities of leadership in a knowledge-intensive organization over the life time of a strategic business unit (SBU). It explores the complex realities of strategists during their tenures who are responsible for business and management education that prepares current and future leaders in organizations.

    Uhl-Bien et al. (2007:309) define adaptive leadership “as emergent change behaviors under conditions of interaction, interdependence, asymmetrical information, complex network dynamics and tension...[manifesting] in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and interactions among agents rather than in individuals, and is recognizable when it has significance and impact.” As Stacey (1996) notes, all managers must deal with “instability, irregularity, difference and disorder.” A twenty-first century, knowledge intensive organization like a top university-based research-intensive business school must re-orient itself in a context of increasing discourses of marketization and regulation. Leaders can feel they are on the edge chaos and may choose either to clamp down or to nurture and catalyze creativity and opportunities, or adopt a combination of both. Transformational leadership can be too controlling (Alix, 2000). Ironically, with the considerable levels of government regulation on higher education, it might seem that organizations such as Google and Apple are places for ideas and experimentation and the university sector is controlled like a nineteenth century cotton mill.

    This study of business school deans explores the leadership qualities of integrity, influence, relentless work and humility characterized by Berman et al. (2010:24) in leaders who deal with complexity. In particular, the case reflects on the kinds of behaviors that Heifetz and Linsky (2002) advocate such as ‘getting on the balcony’, ‘ thinking politically’, ‘giving the work back’ and ‘holding steady.’

    Since the global financial crisis – a crisis of leadership as much as of finances – there has been considerable questioning of business and management education (Canals, 2010), yet few studies on the leaders who are responsible for business schools and schools of management which offer MBAs and executive education and prepare future leaders. A case study of one top business school and its successive leaders provides insights into adaptive leadership in an age of super complexity (Barnett, 1999).

    The methodology adopted focuses on career narratives and documentary and diary analyses of successive leaders of a top European business school over its history. It explores the business school deans’ attention to consensus building and relationships with the central university. The research contributes to the knowledge-based view of the firm (Grant, 1996) and the attention-based view of the relationship between a strategic business unit and the central institution (Bouquet and Birkinshaw, 2008). Ocasio (1997:189) conceptualises attention as ‘the noticing, encoding, interpreting, and focusing of time and effort by organizational decision-makers on both (a) issues: the available repertoire of categories for making sense of the environment and (b) answers: the available repertoire of action alternatives.’ He focuses particularly on structures, suggesting that organizational decision makers’ attentional perspectives are embedded in (i) industry structure (velocity), (ii) cultural structure (institutional logics) and (iii) social structure (top management team demography) (Ocasio, 2010).
    As the purposes of business education are being challenged post the global financial crisis, deans’ attention to rankings is being stretched by baronial struggles (Di Lampedusa, 2007; Davies and Laing, 2011) and aspirations for greater legitimacy (Fragueiro and Thomas, 2010; Khurana, 2010). Much has been written in the last decade about the role of business schools in society (for example, Simon, 1967), much less has been written about the individuals (Aspatore, 2008; Fragueiro and Thomas, 2011) who shape business and management education, the multiple worlds of business school deans and the complexities with which they must grapple. How do business schools respond in an era of economic power shifting from West to East, Facebook fuelled Egyptian revolution, and ‘shared norms for the new reality?’ (World Economic Forum, 2011).

    Gosling (2010) has compared current changing power shifts and democratic leadership in his reference to an Indian tribe leader who simply ‘ran out of time’ (Lear, 2006:41), whose being could no longer contextualize itself into the old ways of ‘now-when-we-are-hunting-buffalo.’ Business schools and their leaders can no longer focus on the simple old ways of maximizing share holder value and what Rayment and Smith (2011) call ‘misleadership’ at the expense of people and the planet. They must engage with the spirit of the times and practise adaptive leadership within complex realities during the seasons of their tenures (Hambrick and Fukutomi, 1991).

    An initial analysis of the empirical data in this single case study of seven case studies of individuals reveals leaders’ growing concerns with reputational capital in an increasingly dense global market (Thomas and Li, 2009). Leadership behaviors that deal successfully with complex systems are manifested in consensus building, social intelligence, and a relentless drive for excellence without elitism with respectful and positive face-to-face interactions. The change in attention from the ‘me’ of the highly cited scholar to the ‘we’ of the leader in the equivalent of a professional services firm is very important. So too, is the capacity to network widely and to give the work of leadership back to those whose talent can be mobilized to create a coherent and integral learning community despite ever tightening central controls and ambiguities and uncertainties within the industry context that is not ‘business as usual.’ Successful business school leaders are re-coupling their institutional focus to society, and the spirit of the New World. This single institutional case study of how seven individual leaders emerged in their roles provides insights for small ‘p’ political leaders in any knowledge-intensive organizations. Just what kind of Zeitgeist leadership can help to make sense of a multipolar context?

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      Julie Davies, Association of Business Schools
      Bio: Julie Davies is a part-time doctoral student at Warwick Business School in the UK researching strategic leadership. She is also Head of Research and Executive Development at the Association of Business Schools, London.
      She also lectures at Birkbeck and the Open University Business School. Julie previously worked as a senior manager at UCL, SOAS, City University and in the National Health Service.


    Chair: Sandra Jones, School of Management, RMIT
    Bio: Dr Sandra Jones – MA; PhD; Med. is the Professor or Employment Relations in the School of Management at RMIT, Australia. Sandra is the Lead Investigator in several projects funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council that are exploring Higher Education responses to leadership and complexity. These projects include both the challenges of leading within Higher Education Institutions as well as new forms of leadership for research partnerships between universities and organisations. Sandra has been a Visiting Fellow to several Universities in the UK, Canada and France and is accredited in the Cynefin framework and the associated Sensemaking Tool. Sandra's recent research into a Distributed Leadership approach for Higher Education builds on her research into the role of employee participation in decision making and the style of leadership required to maximise the ability and willingness of employees to share their knowledge. Her research into distributed leadership focuses on the need to 'live with' rather than try to manage complexity and in so doing to take a more shared approach to leadership such that leadership capacity is built across institutions and organisations. I look forward to chairing this session during which such issues will be presented and discussed in the forum to follow.