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Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien Howard Hawks Chair in Business Ethics & Leadership University of Nebraska Complexity Leadership in Healthcare Organizations © 2012 Mary.

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Presentation on theme: "Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien Howard Hawks Chair in Business Ethics & Leadership University of Nebraska Complexity Leadership in Healthcare Organizations © 2012 Mary."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien Howard Hawks Chair in Business Ethics & Leadership University of Nebraska Complexity Leadership in Healthcare Organizations © 2012 Mary Uhl-Bien

2 What is Complexity Leadership? Traditional Leadership Complexity Leadership Alignment and control Change efforts driven top-down Relies on leader vision, inspiration, and execution Interaction and adaptability Change is emergent (in context) Seeds organization with generative (i.e., adaptive) properties and uses for day-to-day performance

3 Executive Level Bureaucracy Organization Level Bureaucracy Production Level Bureaucracy We have always studied leadership in contexts of bureaucracy…

4 CAS Agent CAS Agent CAS Agent Complexity brings to leadership a lens of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)

5 Organization Level Executive Level Production Level Agent CAS Agent CAS Agent CAS Agent CAS Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) addresses bureaucracy and CAS together.

6 Administrative SystemEntrepreneurial System Productive Tension Adaptive Leadership Generative Leadership Complexity Leadership Model Administrative Leadership Adaptive System

7 Variety of Stimuli High Low Variety of Responses LowHigh The Ordered Regime The Complex Regime The Chaotic Regime 45° Key Premise of CLT: It takes complexity to beat complexity Adapted from Boisot and McKelvey, 2010, Academy of Management Review

8 Research Findings

9 Purpose of Study To examine leadership and adaptability in the healthcare industry using a complexity lens.

10 Methodology Qualitative investigation in 6 hospitals For each hospital we examined leadership processes in the context of a strategic initiative Each hospital was visited twice First with executive team to identify the strategic initiative Second to snowball sample in organization around the initiative Total of 195 interviews over a 16-month period (April, 2008-July, 2009)

11 Overarching Finding 1. Healthcare is in complexity, which is evidenced by increasing variety in (and pressures from) the environment 2. Traditional leadership is inadequate for operating in these contexts because it generates an ordered response that does not meet the needs of complexity. 3. Leaders who respond effectively in these environments enable complex responses by creating climates and conditions conducive to adaptive leadership and enhanced performance.

12 Pressures from Environment High Low Variety Responses LowHigh Ordered Response Complexity Response Chaotic Regime 45° Ordered v. Complex Response Adapted from Boisot and McKelvey, 2010, Academy of Management Review

13 Findings: Complexity In complex environmentscharacterized by high variety and pressures for adaptability organizations need complex responses, i.e., enabling dynamic interaction and emergence. This goes against natural instincts of many managers (and employees!) who want to respond to complexity with directives and control (to generate feelings of order).

14 Ordered v. Complex Response Ordered Response Complexity Response Traditional Leadership focuses on top-down influence processes to motivate and align organizational members around the strategic vision Administrative Leadership top-down leadership loosens administrative systems Generative leadership informal leadership fuels entrepreneurial system Adaptive leadership enables emergence for the organization

15 Summary: Leadership Outcomes Despite the importance of complex responses, only 2 of the 6 hospitals engaged in leadership styles appropriate to a complex response. The other 4 hospitals responded using traditional leadership approaches.

16 Summary: Leadership Outcomes Of the two who engaged in complex responses: One is thriving The other overwhelmed the system ( Houchin and MacLean, 2005 ), resulting in the leadership team being ejected.

17 Summary: Leadership Outcomes Of the four who engaged in traditional responses: Two used overpowering administrative leadership that stifled or suppressed adaptive dynamics. The leadership teams of these hospitals are either completely turned over or in leadership transition (with CEOs of both organizations no longer there). The other two are either in status quo or steady state.

18 Findings: Leadership Responses and Outcomes

19 Traditional Leadership

20 Administrative System Entrepreneurial System Which suppresses adaptive dynamics Traditional Leadership Focuses on alignment and control

21 Complexity in Environment Desire for Control Traditional Leadership Bureaucratization Pressures on System Traditional Leadership (Tightens Administrative function) Stifles Adaptive Dynamics Findings In our data, traditional leadership looks like this…

22 Key Point The key is to recognize and appreciate the value of adaptive dynamics… …and interact with and enable them. That is the critical difference between traditional leadership and complexity leadership.

23 Adaptive Dynamics

24 Adaptive dynamics are often present or trying to be present in organizations. They look like new ideas, innovations, workarounds, pushback, prosocial rule-breaking, voice. They are enabled by generative leadership. Generative leadership helps generate new ideas and champion them into the system. Generative leadership contributes to bottom-up emergence in organizations

25 Administrative SystemEntrepreneurial System Emergence Generative Leadership

26 Key Point It is critical that organizational leaders recognize and value generative leadership. Generative leadership and adaptive dynamics are a core source of innovation and adaptability for the firm. That said, they are easily suppressed.

27 Adaptive Leadership

28 Enhances organizational adaptability and performance by creating conditions that simultaneously: Allow the organization to transform itself to navigate fundamental shifts in the environment… …and perform seamlessly on a day-to-day basis to satisfy customers, shareholders, partners, and other stakeholders (Garud et al., 2006)

29 Adaptive Leadership Channels energy and emergence through a combination of tightening and loosening behaviors. Loosening behaviors (i.e., exploration) involve enabling conditions for interaction, search, experimentation and information flows. Tightening behaviors (i.e., exploitation) involve reducing variance through choice, execution, standardization, and restricting information flows.

30 Administrative SystemEntrepreneurial System Emergence Adaptive Leadership Generative Leadership Complexity Leadership Framework Administrative Leadership

31 Emergence (and Suppression) When engaged appropriately (e.g., simple rules), administrative constraints channel generative leadership to perform in productive ways. Administrators get pressured to change from adaptors and innovators. If administrators regularly turn down these adaptive requests, the organization learns to be not adaptive (generative and adaptive leadership is suppressed or stifled).

32 Conclusions Healthcare needs to respond to complexity with complexity: Loosen the administrative system Fuel the entrepreneurial system (and generative leadership) Develop the adaptive system (adaptive leadership and adaptive dynamics) to capitalize on emergence

33 Conclusions: Not Feel-Good This can feel very disruptive to organizational members. Complexity leadership is not a feel-good model of leadership typically seen in leadership theorizing and practitioner-oriented books. Because it goes against traditional understanding of what leaders do, many will not recognize it as effective leadership. Adaptive leaders often feel they are going against the tide, and it takes great tenacity to withstand the the tremendous pressures to pull back to equilibrium.

34 Conclusions: The Rubber Band Effect The key is watching for the rubber band effectthe snap back against the leaders that occurs when the organization gets pulled too hard and the rubber band breaks. Leaders need to pull the rubber band (the change effort) so it is stretched (but not overly tight), and then pull gradually from the front end, making sure the back end follows, to move the entire system forward (to a new equilibrium).

35 References Boisot, M., & McKelvey, B. (2010). Integrating modernist and postmodernist perspectives on organizations: A complexity science bridge. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), Garud, R., Kumaraswamy, A., & Sambamurthy, V. (2006). Emergent by design: Performance and transformation at Infosys Technologies. Organization Science, 17(2), Houchin, K., & MacLean, D. (2005). Complexity theory and strategic change: An empirically informed critique. British Journal of Management, 16(2), Surie, G., & Hazy, J. (2006). Generative leadership: Nurturing innovation in complex systems. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 8(4), Uhl-Bien, M., & Marion, R. (2008). Complexity Leadership, Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing. Uhl-Bien, M., & Marion, R. (2009). Complexity leadership in bureaucratic forms of organizing: A meso model. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 631–650. Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4),

36 References Boisot, M., & McKelvey, B. (2010). Integrating modernist and postmodernist perspectives on organizations: A complexity science bridge. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), Houchin, K., & MacLean, D. (2005). Complexity theory and strategic change: An empirically informed critique. British Journal of Management, 16(2), Surie, G., & Hazy, J. (2006). Generative leadership: Nurturing innovation in complex systems. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 8(4), Uhl-Bien, M., & Marion, R. (2008). Complexity Leadership, Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing. Uhl-Bien, M., & Marion, R. (2009). Complexity leadership in bureaucratic forms of organizing: A meso model. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 631–650. Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4),


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