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Leadership & Complexity

September 6, 2007

I am pleased to say that (with Mary Boone) I have had an article on Leadership and Complexity accepted for the November edition of HBR. There is even rumor it will be the lead article but I will believe that when I see it! The article uses the Cynefin model as a basis to discuss the need for leaders to understand that different domains require different diagnostic techniques and leadership styles. It also argues that leadership is contextual, challenging the myth of the heroic leader that pervades too much management literature. More on that over the next week, but just to wet your appetite, I quote from the conclusion below:

In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty

The article has been long in preparation and if it hadn’t been for Mary’s persistence it would not have been completed. Its also been interesting to contrast the referee process with that of an academic journal. None of this blind review, accept or reject stuff. If they want it they engage to make it a good article. You get an editor appointed who works with you almost as a co-author. We were very lucky to have Bronwen, and a Welsh name in Boston was propitious. After that other editors get involved as the article is refined to Harvard style before the design team engage. In its way it is more vigorous than an academic journal, but vigorous in ensuring that it is matched to the style and readership of the journal.

There will also be, for the first time in years a new visualisation of the Cynefin model. I haven’t seen it yet, first attempts rejected but we are promised something original!

We will get a chance to order off prints in advance so if anyone wants some let Steve or I know. Hopefully the HBR credibility will help the network in getting executive buy in to projects. Mary and I will also be offering some leadership seminars and processes around the article.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.
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