Kick Complexity to the Curb: How Leaders Can Play Host to Creative, Complexity-Free Processes

Kathryn Scanland Leadership

Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.~Winston Churchill

“Complexity is a leader’s enemy not their friend. Great leaders live to eliminate or simplify the complex, while average leaders allow themselves and those they lead to be consumed by it. Complexity stifles innovation, slows development, gates progress, and adversely impacts culture. Complexity is expensive, inefficient, and ineffective. …great leaders understand opportunity and profits are extracted from complexity through simplification, not by adding to the complexity.”

I read that paragraph last week in an article in entitled, Five Transitions Great Leaders make that Average Leaders Don’t.  I thought back on my own week—having had several Skype calls with individuals in Argentina and Peru, helping someone with a leadership survey in Malawi, researching topics that seemed to have an endless amount of information available on the Internet—and I realized that even in my own little world just how complex things have become.  We don’t have to search far for complexity because we live in it!

This then led me to an article by Margaret Wheatley with Debbie Frieze entitled,Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host.  What an interesting analogy to describe the leadership transition necessary to lead in complexity—from hero to host!

These authors say that “leaders-as-hosts know that people willingly support those things they’ve played a part in creating—that you can’t expect people to ‘buy-in’ to plans and projects developed elsewhere.”  They say that hosting leaders must:

  • provide conditions and good group processes for people to work together
  • provide resources of time, the scarcest commodity of all
  • insist that people and the system learn from experience, frequently
  • offer unequivocal support—people know the leader is there for them
  • keep the bureaucracy at bay, creating oases (or bunkers) where people are less encumbered by senseless demands for reports and administrivia [I love that word!]
  • reflect back to people on a regular basis how they’re doing, what they’re accomplishing, how far they’ve journeyed
  • work with people to develop relevant measures of progress to make their achievement visible

I have to admit, as I read that list (and I didn’t include the entire list here) that I felt a bit exhausted.  Hosting leadership is hard work; it’s much more involved than simply playing the role of “hero.”  A hero can swoop in, make all the decisions, assume everyone will follow without question (because you’re the hero after all) and you’re on to the next challenge.

Will you make the critical transition to shun complexity and live to eliminate and simplify the complex, or will you (and those you lead) be consumed by it?
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

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