Complexity Leadership Theory: Can it help 21st Century Decision-Makers?

This is a presentation that I gave on 5/19/2011 to a group of Ph D. students at Walden University. It is on-going research leading up to my dissertation in 2012. It was a 20-25 min. presentation and a 5-10 min. Q & A session. I have included the audio from the presentation here as well. I think going forward that leaders must change how leadership is viewed, taught, and developed to manage the complexities of the world today. In the audio link my presentation is the first one. I tried to ensure I gave credit to every one of the sources that I used, If I missed ANYONE please forgive me it was unintential and I will correct it asap. Enjoy!


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Michael D. George

Excellent synopsis of complexity leadership theory. Isn’t it amazing that many public organizations attempt to solve 2011 problems with 1911 thinking. The resources toward solving challenges that are available within an organization and among external stakeholders are staggering, yet managers failed to recognize or allow stakeholders voice or the opportunity to lead.

David A. Streat

Andrew and Michael, I’m still learning! I feel there is so much that leaders can learn from this theory. I think it will take them through the tough times and decisions they have to make in the coming years. The one thing I know for sure is that leaders can’t continue to make decisions the way they use to!

David A. Streat

Eric, yes and no. I say that because I’m not in an official decision making capacity in my current position, but I believe that leadership can come from anywhere in the organization and leaders can lead from anywhere they are in an organization. For example, just because you are the least paid person and don’t have a title in your section does not mean that you do not have valuable input into what goes on in your section. I believe through respect, honesty, and commitment one can have an impact in the decision making process.

David A. Streat

Steve, your book sounds very interesting. I had not considered examining the “divide between executive and legislative branches of government and between political appointees and career civil servants.” Unfortunately, it won’t be right away, but If I have time I’ll take a look at it.

Ray MacNeil

Hi David,

Good piece. It seems you draw mostly on Mary’s (Uhl_Bien) work which I think is excellent. But there are lots of other people out there talking about complexity and leadership. Two at the top of my list are Glenda Eoyang (in US) and Dave Snowden (lives in UK). You can google either of them. In fact I think Dave’s Harvard Bus Review article from 2004 is on the net somewhere now.Its very good I think.

Also, my anal side kicking in here… your reference for Thomas Homer-Dixon has his name spelled backards and the title of the piece in the Oxford Leadership Journal is “Complexity Science”. “Shifting the Trajectory of Civilization” is the tag line for the journal. I hope you don’t mind that slight correction.



David A. Streat

Ray, thank you so much for the excellent feedback! Also thank you for catching the mistakes in the citations. I will post an addendum fixing those. Finally, thanks for the names of the other folks I can use as sources in my research. I will google them and get some of their work.