Reimagining Leadership by unpacking the Black Box
Summary of Leadership as a ‘Complex Adaptive System’
Throughout the ethos and across the foundation of selfless leadership – as a form of collective leadership – is the notion of dynamic networks. This is primarily networks of people, but it is also about networks of ideas, information and intelligence. These networks will interact both within its own and across other networks. Patterns of communication will emerge. Remember that all systems apart from the universe are created by humans and we need to acknowledge that flaws will be forever present.
Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) are also adaptive. Ideas will often start with individuals but, as Aristotle inferred, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Ideas will often morph into a decision or decisions made by groups of individuals. These individuals will form a collective of some form.
Explore a brief summary of this section on Leading Complexity
The importance of patterns
Leadership can be considered as a way of exploring, understanding and creating patterns as it is patterns that will determine the problem profile that leaders will be faced with. Understanding these patterns is one of the first tasks in reimagining leadership. Watch the interactive presentation below which illustrates the gist of Leadership3 in combining whole systems approaches (based on geometry), identifying the ‘unknown unknowns’ and how a true transformational leadership style can be developed and applied.
Watch this video in which Stephen Brookes explains how the basis of Leadership3 can be combined with the public leadership framework (based on 2oP’s) in seeking to create and demonstrate public value.Stephen begins by briefly referring to the work on synergy by Buckminster Fuller and provides illustrations to show how this geometry aligns with his conceputal public leadership framework that defines the 20 Ps of leaderships’ contexts, mechanisms and outcomes.
Stephen then explains how the complexity of leadership can be unpicked by understanding how systems impact the outcomes in different ways depending on the prevailing context and how leaders trigger the mechanisms to respond to changes in the wider contextual environments. This approach follows a realist evaluation approach and methodology.
This is what Stephen describes as unlocking the ‘black box’ of leadership. The overall aim of this approach is to put public value at the heart of what leaders do as a means of leading in the public interest. Complexity will be forever present but it can be identified by patterns, unpicked by problemitisation and aligned appropriately based on public value outcomes which are socially desirable.
Complexity and Chaos
We first explored the Collective Leadership approach as a complex system, illustrated herein as a perfect cube. Within this cube is the collective leadership framework based upon the 20 Ps of public leadership (leading in the public interest).
We further noted that a characteristic of complexity is that it is unlikely that the issues or problems underpinning it are likely to be fully resolved. In this sense, it shares these characteristics with those of wicked problems and, moreover, that humans’ tendency to intervene (what Fuller described as a precessional effect) can skew what leadership is trying to achieve. This is akin to a human being placing a finger on a spinning top that spins perfectly on its axis. A slight precession and off it shoots in a totally unpredictable direction!
Chaos Theory underpins complexity. A key lesson is to differentiate the concepts of order versus control. A second lesson is that order will always emerge from chaos. The third lesson is to look for and respond to the patterns that leaders see.
Synergetics and Cybernetics
We have briefly considered the combination of synergetics and cybernetics.
The Benefits of combining both Synergetics and Cybernetics
|The approach to synergy compliments our approach in tackling complex systems. You will recall that one of the important contributions of Fuller’s thinking around synergetics is that he considered this as an exploratory strategy of starting with the whole and the known behaviour of some of its parts and then progressively discovering the integral unknowns. Although this was written many years ago it is highly relevant to the challenges that face collective leaders today. It serves us well as our definition of synergy.|
|Beer used the icosahedron as a model for organizing projects for much the same reason as Fuller used for structure. Cybernetics is the science or study of control or regulation mechanisms in human and machine systems, including computers. Cybernetics helps us to understand the underlying patterns of collective leadership, based on both qualitative and quantitative relationships between the contextual conditions, the mechanisms and the outcomes. This is based on the interaction between the context (which draws on synergetics) and the mechanisms (drawing on cybernetics), although close associations remain between both synergetics and cybernetics.|
Tackling the Unknowns
One of the skills that collective leaders can develop is their ability to think about, predict and respond to the unknown unknowns. This may sound counter-intuitive but, if you take a step back and think about it, it must make sense. We stand on the shoulders of giants who have made similar comments. Notably, Aristotle who saw the benefits of acknowledging that the whole was only as great as its individual parts and Thomas Edison who said that if we only knew what we were capable of achieving, we would astound ourselves. Human imagination knows no bounds!
Watch a video with Donald Rumsfeld’s original interview in which he introduced the unknown unknowns.
In our practical leadership approach of leading through 360 Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills, this (together with our six intelligent leadership questions (ILQs) represent the kernel of our suggested means of unpacking the black box of leadership. Refresh your understanding our three dimensional framework to collective leadership (Leadership3).
|Ask the intelligent questions!|
|Use our 6E framework to envision, engage, empathise, enable, empower and then evaluate.|
|Imagine what success would look like but – just as important – imagine what failure could look like.|
|Reimagine how success could be achieved and what you would do differently.
|Reduce information asymmetry at every opportunity and challenge assumptions|
|Apply goal-directed negotiation to collectively achieve things that break boundaries and disrupt traditional ways of doing things.|
Hover over each of the links to see which page it links to