Michelle Roman is a leader skilled at navigating the intersection of sales, finance, and legal in the cloud-based technology and services industry. For over 15 years, she’s collaborated across her company to resolve issues through consultation, analysis, and negotiation, ensuring new business is secured. She believes that leadership is about developing people through actively leading and enabling others to take action and lead themselves.
MAOL students complete an action research project to address a current leadership issue. For her project, Michelle explored Complexity Leadership Theory and its usefulness for leaders working in a rapidly changing environment.
Complexity Leadership Theory: How Learning Impacts Managers
Technological development, the shift to the Knowledge Era, and globalization reshaped the work environment for many managers over the past few decades. The result is a workplace that is characterized by rapid change and complexity. In this new work environment, existing leadership theory is less relevant to managers striving for success and excellence. The research cites executive leaders calling for new leadership theory and frameworks that better fit the current environment and help managers navigate this challenging reality.
I experienced the challenges of this environment first-hand as a manager at a fast-growing technology company. During the course of my studies in the MAOL program, I sought out new leadership theories and frameworks that might help me and found Complexity Leadership Theory. This leadership theory provides a framework for thinking about and navigating rapid change and complexity in one’s organization. In addition, it names leadership practices that help support organizational adaptation, which is critical for organizations in this environment. Applying this theory and framework in my workplace, I found that it helped me navigate the challenges with more confidence. This experience led to my action research project where I asked how learning about Complexity Leadership Theory and enabling leadership practices impact managers in environments of rapid change.
The key findings were that managers found value in learning about a new theory and leadership practices for navigating their workplaces, and it changed their behavior. Managers learned a new language (names for enabling leadership practices), allowing them to talk about what they were doing to support organizational adaptability. It also provided value as a new approach for thinking about and navigating their challenges and projects. Over the course of the study, managers shifted their practices, suggesting that they are seeking new and different practices for their work environment. The theme of the findings is that there is value for managers to learn about Complexity Leadership Theory. Thus, professional learning on Complexity Leadership Theory should be provided to managers in environments of rapid change and complexity. At the same time, it should be noted that Complexity Leadership Theory is not a replacement but a complement and addition to existing leadership theory.