Follow me, I’m right behind you : leading from a complexity viewpoint
Mason, Roger Bruce
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This paper is based on the premise that businesses and their environments are complex adaptive systems (CAS), and are therefore too complex to be ‘managed’ by a single leader. The literature suggests that CASs are self-organising systems and that effective direction and guidance emerges from such self-organisation. Thus, the traditional view of a leader as a decision-maker, instructing and controlling the organisation is inappropriate in a complex/turbulent environment. A qualitative, case study method was used to investigate the leadership activities in four companies, two each in a turbulent industry (computers) and in a stable industry (packaging). Depth interviews were conducted with 31 respondents. Interview transcripts were analysed using NVIVO, and then compared with field notes and documentary analyses. The objective was to identify if a self-organising leadership approach was prevalent in the more successful company in the turbulent industry, and if bureaucratic management was more prevalent in the more successful company in the stable industry. In other words, is self-organising leadership more effective in a turbulent environment? The study has value as it is based on theories not common in the management literature. It is also of value to educators, as many management courses are still based on the assumption of the manager as all-knowing planner and controller. Furthermore, it will be of interest to practitioners who are under pressure from environmental changes, and from societies that are demanding more from their organisations. The findings showed that both the more successful companies, and the less successful computer company, operate via considerable self-organisation principles. Company activities and performance emerge from the interactions amongst the managers, staff and customers, with little direct instructional management from the CEOs. The less successful packaging company managed via the traditional bureaucratic model. These findings and their implications are discussed, and recommendations for further research are made.
Mason, R.B. 2008. Follow me, I’m right behind you : leading from a complexity viewpoint.