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Leading with Resilience and Clarity through Complex Times

Complexity People on Plaze with Network

How do you mobilize the collective intelligence of many individuals and teams to move successfully through periods of challenge and threat? How do you engage others to realize their human potential and catalyze innovation in your organization? How do you better enable individuals and teams to exercise sound judgement in decision-making processes?

The approach Fénix Leadership & Development has adopted draws from the most advanced understanding and knowledge of social systems and human development. We have found that integrating complexity science and adult development are most useful in the design and the actual work of organizational development and change initiatives and individual and team coaching. We present and use this knowledge in a language and process that makes sense to you, engages your employees, and invites their participation.

In 2007, largely because of my understanding and use of complexity science (complex adaptive systems or CAS), I was chosen by the US Department of Defense to serve as the Defense Transformation Chair at the US Army War College. In that role, I explicitly interwove these two frameworks to support the development of senior civilian and military leaders at the US Army War College through seminars, teaching, coaching, and research. I also worked with my counterparts in every US Professional Military Education Institution and we expanded our network globally to offer opportunities to learn about, experience, and practice leadership in complex systems.

At the US Army War College, we often referred to the security environment as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complexity, and ambiguous), a term in use beginning in the late 1980’s. Senior security leaders were viscerally aware of the interdependencies among parties and the shifts and asymmetry of power contributing to the volatility, ambiguity, and the uncertainty of security environments. Presently, because of our encounters with many overlapping challenges, COVID, climate change, the war in the Ukraine, and other issues, the reality of complexity or our VUCA environment has entered the consciousness and experience of most of us. The 24/7 exchange of information via social media has contributed greatly to this complexity, as well as our higher level of awareness of the VUCA quality of our reality. However, leaders are often taken unawares, as they draw from outmoded perspectives, ways of doing things, and approaches to leadership and decision-making. The fact is that in today’s world every organization works in a complex system and individuals feel the shifting sands beneath them, but we are frequently unprepared to respond in constructive ways.

Many conventional assumptions about management and leadership models still abound, e.g., especially those based on foundations of strict command and control and an unwavering confidence in our capacity to predict. The constant shifts and changes we encounter in our environments directly counter these assumptions. Being effective, successfully engaging the participation of others in initiatives, and creating momentum toward constructive ends in today’s world require changing the way we think and act. Letting go of a more conventional paradigm is difficult for some leaders. Nevertheless, making certain our assumptions about leadership and change align with an understanding of systems and culture that better captures the reality of our world gives more power and agency to all players. You can more readily identify patterns of behavior, emotional dispositions, and the levers for development and change, to better influence and calibrate as you go. You can accept that there are multiple contributing factors, not simply one linear cause, and leverage this understanding for effective action. You can take iterative action and then socialize a vigilance to adapt and adjust as needed to move in the desirable direction. We at Fénix can work with you turn these more abstract notions into clear and understood perspectives, tools, and specific skills to help you navigate your challenges for success.

Recently I’ve observed some contentious dialogue about the viability of adult development principles in relationship to complex adaptative systems. My response is that dialogue about underlying assumptions and exploration of principles serve to revitalize our methods and approaches. We at Fénix Leadership & Development believe that these two frameworks – adult development and complex adaptive systems – are, in fact, compatible ways of understanding our experience in an integrated way, so that they together significantly contribute to leaders’ and teams’ growing capacity to navigate the challenges required for effective action in today’s world. Some of these capacities include attention to sensemaking at many levels, acting on what you learn, sound judgement, collaboration, and mobilizing collective intelligence to realize constructive shifts in organizational culture and behavior.

We will continue to expand on these ideas in future blogs.

Meanwhile, let’s start a conversation

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