Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Social Complexity Theory for Sense Seeking: Unearthing Leadership Mindsets for Unknowable and Uncertain Times

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Social Complexity Theory for Sense Seeking: Unearthing Leadership Mindsets for Unknowable and Uncertain Times

Article excerpt

Abstract

This exposition considers perspectives underpinning contemporary leadership studies given we are located in what Hawking describes as the 'century of complexity', also understood as a Knowledge Era. Social complexity as context allows consideration of the turbulence our times without looking for guaranteed, certain, or 'right' answers and allows us to work with these conditions, rather than succumb to threat rigidity, pretend they do not exist, or think they are someone else's problem. To make sense of these conditions requires ontological and cognitive shifts of mindset that more closely match the 'requisite variety' of the complexities of our times. The paper draws upon a PhD interpretive inquiry which identified cogent leadership literacies for the 21st century and explored them within Australian university settings. Various cognitive frames feature in this paper and serve to illuminate possibilities for scholars and practitioners seeking fresh approaches for leadership studies for a Knowledge Era. Whilst there are many contemporary scholars already doing so it is also clear that the ontological shifts are not easy and that archaic mindsets are difficult to dislodge even in light of wicked problems like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 or environmental disasters.

March 31, 2015 * Academic

Introduction

This exposition considers current perspectives underpinning contemporary leadership studies given we are located in what Hawking describes as the 'century of complexity' 17 (p. 29). Indeed Berman & Korsten 8 find complexity to be the 'greatest challenge' facing leaders in the short to medium term:

The world's private and public sector leaders believe that a rapid escalation of 'complexity' is the biggest challenge confronting them. They expect it to continue, indeed, to accelerate in the coming years. They are equally clear that their enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment (p. 3).

The paper begins with a preamble providing contextual factors for the work of leadership in the early part of the 21st century. In particular these contexts focus on the mindsets and hegemony of the Industrial and Knowledge Eras to tease out assumptions underpinning leadership studies and practice today. Next, the context of trying to seek sense of the work of leadership as sites of social complexity is explored with particular emphasis on the work of Paul Cilliers as a pathway for turning social complexity theory towards leadership studies. This is followed by considering leadership approaches that have been illuminated by social complexity theories. These are more fully explained through the introduction of a speculative typology, constructed as a sense seeking frame to encourage 'working with' such contexts rather than trying to tame and order them, named as Worldly, Sustaining, Leadingful, Relational and Learningful Leadership Literacies.

The paper draws upon a PhD study that began just prior to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. This interpretive inquiry identified cogent leadership literacies for the 21st century and explored them within Australian university settings. I was initially drawn to my research, as a practice-led researcher, by "a sense of a problem, of something going on, some disquiet, and of something there that could be explicated"92 (p. 9) about the detrimental effects on practice and people in light of yet another restructure.

The concept of knowledge intensive work, workers and the place where this occurs is encapsulated in the term 'knowledge intensive enterprise'. The provenance for these can be traced to Peter Drucker25. More recently Knowledge Intensive Firms (KIFs) have been characterized as places:

where symbolic work-using ideas and concepts-is crucial...Theory-guided cognitive activity is important-or at least makes a difference-in more situations and for more people in a KIF than in other organizations 2 (p. …

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