Resilient Leadership Amidst Complexity

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Malcolm, Margy-Jean
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Date
2014
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Conference Contribution - Oral Presentation
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Not for Profit Management (Unitec course)
leadership learning
third-sector organisations
complexity leadership theory
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Citation
Malcolm, M.J. (2014). Resilient Leadership Amidst Complexity. Paper presented at Australia New Zealand Third Sector Research Conference, Christchurch, 18-20th November 2014
Abstract
Amidst more than two decades of a discourse calling for third sector organisations to be more ‘business- like’ (Tennant, 2007), there has been relatively little research about the strengths of being ‘nonprofit-like’ (Dym & Hutson, 2005). This paper draws on recent research which was grounded in theory-building with civil society practitioners in two Aotearoa NZ leadership learning contexts (Malcolm, 2014) to draw out their tacit wisdom about leading amidst complexity. The research challenges dominant, implicit assumptions about leadership, for example as strong, heroic, decisive, visionary heroes and heroines. An alternative understanding of leadership is explored, drawing on complexity thinking constructs, to see leadership as a whole, multi-layered, dynamic learning system. What may look to the outsider as messy, disorganised or contradictory leadership responses, are instead understood as polarities within a complex adaptive system that is always in movement. This paper will highlight some of the learning for civil society practitioners, researchers and educators from this collaborative inquiry research, in particular: • four interwoven layers of leadership – personal, relational, cultural and structural – and some of the polarities that are in ongoing movement • complexivist1 leadership strategies that help leading amidst the complexity of civil society contexts • three core interactions to pay attention to, to enable leadership learning in everyday complex contexts At a time when most complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008; Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007) has come out of business contexts, this research contributes important insights from third sector organisations and community-led development contexts to deepen understanding of leading amidst complexity. Complexity thinking as a way of being, thinking and acting (Davis & Sumara, 2006) points to a Amidst more than two decades of a discourse calling for third sector organisations to be more ‘business- like’ (Tennant, 2007), there has been relatively little research about the strengths of being ‘nonprofit-like’ (Dym & Hutson, 2005). This paper draws on recent research which was grounded in theory-building with civil society practitioners in two Aotearoa NZ leadership learning contexts (Malcolm, 2014) to draw out their tacit wisdom about leading amidst complexity. The research challenges dominant, implicit assumptions about leadership, for example as strong, heroic, decisive, visionary heroes and heroines. An alternative understanding of leadership is explored, drawing on complexity thinking constructs, to see leadership as a whole, multi-layered, dynamic learning system. What may look to the outsider as messy, disorganised or contradictory leadership responses, are instead understood as polarities within a complex adaptive system that is always in movement. This paper will highlight some of the learning for civil society practitioners, researchers and educators from this collaborative inquiry research, in particular: • four interwoven layers of leadership – personal, relational, cultural and structural – and some of the polarities that are in ongoing movement • complexivist1 leadership strategies that help leading amidst the complexity of civil society contexts • three core interactions to pay attention to, to enable leadership learning in everyday complex contexts At a time when most complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008; Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007) has come out of business contexts, this research contributes important insights from third sector organisations and community-led development contexts to deepen understanding of leading amidst complexity. Complexity thinking as a way of being, thinking and acting (Davis & Sumara, 2006) points to a different discourse about leadership and challenges complexivists to be able to notice, read and work with the patterns, flow and constant movement of living systems, together with all their paradoxes and emergent possibilities.
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Australia New Zealand Third Sector Research
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