Complexity leadership theory – Emergence: Complexity and Organization – Lichtenstein et al, 2006 and 

Source: Complexity leadership theory – Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Complexity leadership theory

An interactive perspective on leading in complex adaptive systems



Traditional, hierarchical views of leadership are less and less useful given the complexities of our modern world. Leadership theory must transition to new perspectives that account for the complex adaptive needs of organizations. In this paper, we propose that leadership (as opposed to leaders) can be seen as a complex dynamic process that emerges in the interactive “spaces between” people and ideas. That is, leadership is a dynamic that transcends the capabilities of individuals alone; it is the product of interaction, tension, and exchange rules governing changes in perceptions and understanding. We label this a dynamic of adaptive leadership, and we show how this dynamic provides important insights about the nature of leadership and its outcomes in organizational fields. We define a leadership event as a perceived segment of action whose meaning is created by the interactions of actors involved in producing it, and we present a set of innovative methods for capturing and analyzing these contextually driven processes. We provide theoretical and practical implications of these ideas for organizational behavior and organization and management theory.





The leadership of emergence: A complex systems
leadership theory of emergence at successive
organizational levels
Benyamin B. Lichtenstein
University of Massachusetts, Boston,
Donde Ashmos Plowman
University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

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Published in The Leadership Quarterly 20:4 (August 2009), pp. 617–630; doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.04.006
Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.
Published online May 29, 2009.1
The leadership of emergence: A complex systems leadership
theory of emergence at successive organizational levels
Benyamin B. Lichtenstein
Department of Management/Marketing, University of Massachusetts, Boston, 100 Morrissey Blvd. M-5/214,
Boston, MA 02215-3393, USA (Corresponding author: tel 617 287-7887, email
Donde Ashmos Plowman
Department of Management, The University of Tennessee, 414 Stokely Management Center,
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0545, USA
Complexity science reframes leadership by focusing on the dynamic interactions between all individuals, explaining
how those interactions can, under certain conditions, produce emergent outcomes. We develop a Leadership of
Emergence using this approach, through an analysis of three empirical studies which document emergence in distinct
contexts. Each of these studies identifies the same four “conditions” for emergence: the presence of a Dis-equilibrium
state, Amplifying actions, Recombination/“Self-organization”, and Stabilizing feedback. From these studies
we also show how these conditions can be generated through nine specific behaviors which leaders can enact, including:
Disrupt existing patterns through embracing uncertainty and creating controversy, Encourage novelty by
allowing experiments and supporting collective action, Provide sensemaking and sensegiving through the artful use
of language and symbols, and Stabilize the system by Integrating local constraints. Finally, we suggest ways for advancing
a meso-model of leadership, and show how our findings can improve complexity science applications in

Keywords: complexity, self-organization, non-linear interactions, case study research, leadership behaviors