Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Re-conceptualizing leadership for an era of complexity and uncertainty: A case study of leadership in a complex adaptive system
by Blandin, Nanette M., Ed.D., The George Washington University, 2008, 258; 3297144
Abstract (Summary)

This research study has been undertaken to answer questions about the evolving nature of leadership in organizations that are characterized by volatility, uncertainty and complexity. Insights from complexity theory have been used to analyze and understand leadership in this new organizational context.

Leadership was studied in one non-profit arts organization which is functioning as a complex adaptive system. A qualitative research design was used based on ethnographic and ethnomethodological principles. The case study involved interviews, observation and archival review.

Findings demonstrate that leadership in highly complex environments differs in many fundamental respects from conventional models of leadership which assume high degrees of stability and linearity. Findings were discussed in terms of leadership philosophy, leadership practices, and leadership properties. While aspects of these findings have been cited in the literature, this represents an empirically based and comprehensive examination of the various dimensions of leadership.

Based on this research, the nature of leadership in a complex adaptive system is seen as emergent, distributed, enabling, collective, interactive, values based, agile, generative, learning driven, committed to diversity, optimistic and subtle. Research findings also suggest the need for a new definition of leadership that embraces these characteristics. Finally, generalized themes related to leadership in complex adaptive systems are presented. They include the need to create a context for addressing key adaptive challenges, to leverage dynamic tensions, and the necessity for a new combination of mental models and qualities for those exercising leadership in complex adaptive systems.

These findings have profound implications for theory and practice. Implications for society, organizations, individuals, educational institutions, and research are discussed. Prominent among the implications is the need to re-conceptualize individual and organizational learning, for individuals to embrace lifelong learning, and for those exercising leadership to become comfortable with uncertainty, complexity, paradox and nonlinearity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schwandt, David R.
Commitee: Axtell, Robert L., Croswell, Clyde V.
School: The George Washington University
Department: Education and Human Development
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 69/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Management, Adult education, Continuing education, Organizational behavior, Organization theory
Keywords: Complex adaptive system, Complexity theory, Leadership, Leadership development, Leadership succession, Uncertainty
Publication Number: 3297144
ISBN: 9780549444855
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