Complexity Leadership Theory

Complexity leadership theory emerged in 2007, and hence it is seen as one of the more contemporary, newer approaches on leadership. This approach relies on four key ideas:

  1. Leadership is socially constructed; it emerges from and is embedded within a context, where context refers to the nature of interactions and interdependencies among agents (people, ideas, etc.), hierarchical divisions, organizations, and environments.
  2. Leadership must be differentiated from leaders, where leadership is an emergent, interactive dynamic that is adaptive over time (known as adaptive leadership), and leaders are individuals who act in ways that influence this dynamic and the adaptive outcomes.
  3. Leadership must be differentiated from managerial positions or “offices”, which is a bureaucratic idea. Leadership occurs throughout the organization and is not restricted to managerial roles and top-level positions.
  4. Leadership occurs in the face of adaptive challenges (typical of the Knowledge Era) rather than technical problems (more characteristic of the Industrial Age).

    Adaptive challenges are problems that require new learning, innovation, and new patterns of behavior, while technical problems can be solved with existing knowledge and procedures.

This theory therefore posits that leadership is not merely the influential act of an individual or individuals but rather is embedded in a complex interplay of numerous interacting forces.