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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This appreciation can also be illuminating (helping people make sense of what is happening all around them). This illumination can in turn help people forgive their own confusion and even forgive their own mistakes and the mistakes being made by other members of the organization. As the proponents of organizational learning frequently note, the effectiveness of a contemporary organization is determined not by the ability to avoid making mistakes, but by the ability to learn from these mistakes and not repeatedly make the same mistakes.

How can we make sense of and appreciate leadership in the organizations of which we are members (Soft Irony)? It depends on the society in which we live. People who live in premodern societies, with economies based primarily on hunting, gathering, agriculture, or the extraction, cultivation and crafting of other natural resources, tend to conceive of leadership as the “head of household.”

They make sense of leadership by crafting stories (often mythic in scope) about great men and women who were selected for their character and education. These great men and women not only lead organizations, they also influence history and establish societal values—this is the mythic nature of their existence and profound legacy. Premodern leaders are either born to greatness or provided with an elitist program of liberal arts and mentorship. They tend to exert authority through a paternal or maternal concern for the welfare and proper education of those who depend on them.

By contrast, those living in modern societies, with economies based on large-scale manufacturing and marketing, tend to make sense of their leaders by conceiving of them as master cogs in a great machine. Members of modern societies emphasize structures, processes and procedures that ensure the appropriate expression of leadership and influence. Events and structures—not great people—determine the course of modern history, and values are identified as products of the system and bureaucracy rather than as products of any specific individual(s).

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