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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Specifically, as a system becomes more complex, it reaches a point when it dramatically changes form and function. Called a “phase change” or “tipping point” (Gladwell, 2002), the system emerges as something quite different from what it was in its previous, less complex form. The irony inherent in this emergence concerns not just the unpredictability of two or more seemingly predictable subsystems coming together to form something brand new, but also the great sense-making that occurs when we observe and analyze the way in which this phase change takes place.

Most importantly, for those us providing coaching and consulting services, the fundamental issue is: are our clients merely observers and perhaps discerning analysts of this irony-filled phase change (Soft Irony) or are they living it in an intimate and profound manner each day of their life (Hard Irony)? Do they just read about tipping points in Gladwell’s (2002) best-selling book or they on the brink of a major tipping edge in their own life? Mutual discernment by the interventionist and client is important at this (tipping) point.

The Interplay between Order and Chaos

21st Century leaders, postmodernists and ironists often find themselves addressing a basic issue concerning the interplay between order and chaos. Systems (including organizations) seem to make sense—sometimes. The policies and procedures look right (at least on paper) and things seem to be moving along in a predictable manner. At other times, everything seems to be fragmented and chaotic. Nothing makes any sense in the organization and one wonders if the center can hold. Postmodern and ironist theorists (especially those who are studying chaotic systems) suggest that these seemingly contradictory observations are actually a result of examining the organization at different levels (Kauffman, 1996, p. 8):

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