Home Concepts Organizational Theory Leadership in the Midst of Complexity, Uncertainty, Turbulence—and Contradiction

Leadership in the Midst of Complexity, Uncertainty, Turbulence—and Contradiction

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At this point, I introduce a theme that shall be found throughout this set of essays: our 21st Century world is highly complex, unpredictable and turbulent. This theme happens to align closely with a theme that is widely embraced among contemporary organizational theorists and leadership development specialists: VUCA (which is an acronym standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). I am not alone in suggesting that complexity, uncertainty (including ambiguity) and turbulence (volatility) are widely to be found in our contemporary world. I add, in this essay, a fourth component that makes complexity, uncertainty and turbulence even more challenging—this is the condition of contradiction. This is the world of irony and I will be building on the utopian proposal offered by the philosopher, Richard Rorty (1989).

Along with Rorty, I propose that a new condition of irony is one in which we will not just recognize and appreciate multiple perspectives, multiple truths and multiple narratives. It is a condition in which we willingly embrace these multiple realities and enter these realities into our own consciousness—despite the (ironic) fact that these realities might contradict one another. We engage these multiple realities (and accompanying truths) contingently by fully appreciating and empathizing with the emotional experiences of the “unfamiliar others” who live with these alternative realities and truths.

In terms of organizational dynamics and leadership, we will begin, as ironists, to not just understand and appreciate the values and perspectives inherent in every organization and in every leader. As I have already suggested, we will wholeheartedly claim each of these values and perspectives as being part-and-parcel of our own working perspective on the life of a contemporary leader. Furthermore, we will take action based on our full appreciation of these multiple realities, values and claims.

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