The Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT)

28 enero , 2013 |  por  |  Liderazgo  | 

Esquema de un Sistema Adaptativo Complejo

The Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) starts with the notion of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), which are a basic unit of analysis in complexity science. CAS are neural-like networks of interacting, interdependent agents who are bonded in a cooperative dynamic by common goals, outlook or need. They are changeable structures with multiple, overlapping hierarchies, and like the individuals that comprise them, CAS are linked with one another in a dynamic, interactive network. A generally similar structure has been described relative to managing knowledge flows in organizations called “temporary constellations of people and units”. CAS emerge naturally in social systems, they are capable of solving problems creatively and are able to learn and adapt quickly. CLT describes three leadership functions to explain how leadership occurs and emerge as a feature of the whole system that is the organization:

Adaptive leadership is an emergent, interactive dynamic that produces outcomes in a social system. It is a collaborative change movement that emerges nonlinearly from interactive exchanges, or more specifically, from the “spaces between” agents. Adaptive leadership emerges from asymmetrical interaction, of two types: that related to authority and that related to preferences (which includes differences in knowledge, skills, beliefs, etc.). Adaptive change is produced by the clash of existing but incompatible ideas, knowledge and technologies; it takes the form of new knowledge and creative ideas, learning or adaptation. A familiar form of this change occurs when two interdependent individuals who are debating conflicting perceptions of a given issue suddenly, generate a new understanding of that issue. Moreover, it cannot be claimed by any one individual, but rather is a function or product of the interactions among individuals and Complex Adaptive Systems.

The role of Enabling Leadershipin the CLT framework is to foster the conditions that catalyze adaptive leadership and allow for emergence. Middle managers are often in a position to engage in enabling behaviors because of their access to resources and their direct involvement in the boundary conditions for the system’s production level. However, enabling leadership can be found anywhere. Its role seemingly overlaps, at times, that of administrative leadership in that it may be performed by agents acting in more managerial capacities. Moreover, a single agent or aggregate can perform either adaptive or enabling roles by merely changing hats as needed. Enabling leadership then forsters interaction, interdependency ans injects adaptive tension to help motivate and coordinate the interactive dynamic.

Esquema de las funciones de liderazgo según la teoría CLT

Enabling leadership function also helps to disseminate innovative products of adaptive leadership through the formal managerial system. This is a function of integration and entanglement between CAS dynamics and formal administrative systems and structures. Involves using authority, access to resources, and influence to keep the formal and informal organizational systems working in tandem rather than counter to one another. Managing the innovation-to-organization interface imply facilitate, orchestrate, and share innovative ideas and outcomes throughout the organization. But it also means to identify which creative outputs of the adaptive subsystem are the most appropriate to move forward into the broader bureaucratic structure.

Mary Uhl-Bien, una de las principales autoras de esta teoría

Administrative Leadership Function refers to the actions of individuals in formal managerial roles who plan and coordinate organizational activities (e.g. bureaucratic function). Administrative leaders structure tasks, engage in planning, build vision, acquire resources to achieve goals, manage crisis and organizational strategy. Administrative leadership is a top-down function based on authority and position, thus it possess the power to make decisions for the organization. However, within the structure described by complexity, administrative leadership is advised to exercise its authority with consideration of the firm’s need for creativity, learning and adaptability. A decision, for example, to exercise profitable efficiency in a volatile environment could deprive a firm of much needed adaptive capacity. Mary Uhl-Bien is one of the main authors of this intersting theory. You can go deeper in her work through this link. A summary of the main ideas is showed in the slides below.

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Javier Ruiz

Vivo en Getxo y trabajo en Tecnalia. Me gusta leer, nadar y pasear por la naturaleza. Me interesa investigar y explorar nuevos caminos para desarrollar nuestra capacidad de liderar la innovación de forma individual y colectiva. Para mí ser líder empieza por escucharte a ti mismo y a los demás. Doctor en Ciencias Químicas, en mis veinticinco años de actividad profesional he trabajado en la universidad, la industria y en los centros tecnológicos, donde he dirigido grupos de I+D+i sobre organización industrial, gestión y sistemas de innovación. Formado como coach por Team Academy Finlandia.


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