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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A second kind of subsystem of the stream is also orderly, though it is much more complex. This is the whirlpool that is formed when the water hits an impediment (such as a submerged rock). The water in a whirlpool keeps changing directions; however, one can predict the change in directions since the water is moving in a predictable spiral formation. We know where the leaf that enters a whirlpool will be two seconds from now. However, we may not be able to predict where it will be in five seconds, since the whirlpool is likely to pull the leaf down below the surface of the water and throw it off into some other subsystem.

In an organization, this whirlpool-type subsystem is represented by the predictable changes in the life cycle and seasons of the organization. Change is occurring in the organization, but it is change that has occurred before in the organization (seasonal change) or it is change that one can anticipate given the experiences of comparable organizations as they grow larger or older (lifecycle change).

There are the unknown aspects of the change—as the organization (like the leaf) is pulled into the vortex of the compelling change. Even if they don’t know where it will all end up after the predictable cycle, seasoned leaders can be relatively confident regarding the pattern of organizational change that will unfold in the cycle. Budget preparation times in companies are typically whirlpool occasions: intense, dizzying but ultimately predictable.

The stream also embraces a third subsystem that is to be found in the quiet pools that are tucked away behind a large boulder in the stream or at the edge of the stream beside a large sunken tree trunk. It is remarkable that a stream with rapidly flowing water also inevitably contains many subsystems that are not only very quiet but also often stagnant. We can usually drink from the rapidly flowing water in a stream–but are warned (by the smell) to avoid drinking from the stagnant pools. Yet, these pools are often the sources of nutrients for the ecosystem of the stream.

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