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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Researchers and theorists who are seeking to understand complicated problems often describe the settings in which problems emerge as “rugged landscapes.” (Miller and Page, 2007) This type of landscape is filled with many mountains of about the same height (think of the majestic mountain range called the Grand Tetons or the front range of the Rocky Mountains that citizens of Denver Colorado see every day), as compared with a landscape in which one mountain peak dominates. In a rugged landscape that is complicated, one finds many competing viewpoints about which mountain is higher or which vista is more beautiful. A similar case can be made regarding the challenging and ironic problems that must be engaged by the 21st Century leader.


When certain issues that leaders face appear impervious to a definitive solution, it becomes useful to classify them as dilemmas. While dilemmas like problems are complicated, they are also complex, in that each of the many elements embedded in the dilemmas is connected to each (or most) of the other elements (Miller and Page, 2007). We may view the issue from one perspective and take action to alleviate one part of the issue, and we immediately confront another part of the issue, often represented by an opposing stakeholder group. We are facing full-blown irony.

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