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

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Emphasis is thus placed not on identifying or producing a great leader (as in the premodern society), but on constructing a great system. Those who head modern organizations typically define themselves as managers rather than leaders. They are to manage and be worthy stewards of the great system that has been created by other people (the nameless and faceless designers of bureaucracies). Modern authority is expressed through the autonomy of rules, regulations, roles and organizational structures.

Those who reside in postmodern societies, with economies based on digital communication and commerce call both the premodern and modern notions of leadership into question. They make sense of postmodern leaders by considering these men and women to be neither inherently great nor merely a product of a great system or bureaucracy. Greatness in a postmodern society involves interaction and great alignment between potentially great people and a potentially great system.

Effective postmodern leadership can be found at any level of an organization. Engaged leaders are effective as they exemplify Rorty’s notion of contingency: leadership can be effectively exerted and will be influential if applied at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner, and with regard to the right problem or goal. This contextual and contingent model of leadership requires careful consideration of both individual and organizational character and style. It also requires a tolerance for ambiguity, recognition of the need for one to learn from his or her mistakes, and a clear sense of personal aspirations.

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