1st Edition

Complex Adaptive Leadership
Embracing Paradox and Uncertainty

ISBN 9781138256286
Published November 10, 2016 by Routledge
256 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

Complex Adaptive Leadership argues leadership should not be something only exercised by nominated leaders. It is a complex dynamic process involving all those engaged in a particular enterprise. The theoretical background to this lies in complexity science and chaos theory - spoken and written about in the context of leadership for the last 20 years, but still little understood. We all seem intuitively to know leadership 'isn't what it used to be' but we still cling to old assumptions which look anachronistic in changing and challenging times. Organisations and their contexts are increasingly paradoxical and uncertain. A broader approach to leadership is needed. Nick Obolensky has practised leadership in the public, private and voluntary sectors. He has also researched it, and taught it over many years in leading business schools. In this exciting book he brings together his knowledge of theory, his own experience, and the results of 15 years of research involving 1,500 executives in 40 countries around the world. The main conclusion from that research is that the more complex things become, the less traditional directive leadership is needed. Those operating in the real world, nonetheless, need ways of coping. The book is focused on helping practitioners struggling to interpret and react to increasingly complex events. Arranged in four parts, it provides a number of exercises, tools and models that will help the reader to understand: - why the context for leadership has changed, and why complexities in organisations have emerged - what complexity is and what lessons can be drawn from this emergent area of scientific study - how Complex Adaptive Leadership can be exercised in a very practical way at two levels: organisationally and individually, and how to get more for less - the actions that can be taken when Complex Adaptive Leadership is applied. The book will particularly appeal to practitioners wishing to add to their knowledge of leadership theory.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface: what's this all about?; Part I The Context: A journey of discovery; The world wide context - a flow towards polyarchy; The organisational context - evolve or die; Finita la comedia - stop playing charades; A quick breather between Parts I and II. Part II Chaos and Complexity: Order in chaos, simplicity in complexity - the deeper paradox; Getting to grips with chaos and complexity; Getting chaos and complexity to work; A quick breather between Parts II and III. Part III The Leadership Angle: What is leadership anyway?; What about the followers?; Complex adaptive leadership in action; A final breather between Parts III and IV. Part IV Looking Forward and Other Interests: Beyond this book - the choices you have...; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

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Nick Obolensky has enjoyed a successful career in a number of roles, in the military, third sector, academia and in business, including those of Associate Director of a FTSE 100 firm, MBA Professor of the Year more than once, and CEO and Chairman of entrepreneurial start-ups. He is a Chartered Management Consultant and was an Executive Strategy Consultant at Ernst and Young, where he also led the Research Associate Practice. He has been a Fellow at the London Business School and was a Founder Fellow at The Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, Professor of Leadership at Nyenrode University in the Netherlands and a Visiting Professor at INSEAD in France. His work has been published by in several languages around the world as well as under the auspices of the University of Exeter Centre for Leadership Studies and the RSA.


'Drawing upon a wide range of wisdom and ideas, from Lao Tzu to Lorenz and modern chaos theory, Obolensky brilliantly argues the case for organisations and their leaders to adapt to the complex, uncertain world of today and tomorrow. He also proffers excellent practical advice on how to do so.' - Philip Sadler CBE, Vice-president, Ashridge Business School, Senior Fellow, Tomorrow’s Company 'A true tour de force, in a class of its own from being well-grounded both in the science and in practical experiences.' - Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science and other books 'Chaos and order: the perpetual tension that drives and binds any organisation. What should leadership do - conserve order or inspire creativity and change? In this wonderfully clear, thorough and provocative book Obolensky describes leadership as a fusion of anarchy and oligarchy, and shows how things really get done - through polyarchy. This book is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in understanding what is happening to authority, initiative and influence in contemporary organizations; leaders who value conceptual clarity about their predicament will find it invaluable.' - Professor Jonathan Gosling, Centre for Leadership Studies, Exeter University, UK 'This book provides a novel, provocative and useful approach to leadership, which I have seen put to good use by Professor Obolensky with senior executives in London Business School’s Centre for Management Development. Today, leaders have to be able to work in a complex and fast-changing environment, and to do this effectively means challenging a lot of the traditional assumptions about the nature of leadership. This book does a terrific job of introducing some new thinking about leadership, while also keeping the reader’s feet firmly on the ground. You will enjoy the mind-stretching concepts, the witty anecdotes, and the practical advice Professor Obolensky offers up in this book.' - Julian Birkin