CHANGE LEADERSHIP & Should Leaders Be The Source of Change? Maybe Not.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/21/15.

Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT), ever heard of it?

Actually, most of my students are studying it, but they don’t know it.  Basically (and this is very abbreviated) “complexity leadership theory” believes that leadership is a “complex, dynamic process that emerges in the interactions of people and ideas” (Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).  By this is meant that CLT recognizes that leadership is a complex matrix (or Mary Jo Hatch would say “collage,” 1997, p. 54) of traits, abilities, skills, behaviors, relationships and influence processes.

This is exactly the leadership mix you will find in these postings:

But, an important contribution of “CLT” has been that leaders shouldn’t make or force change.

CLT says leaders create change, “not by making change happen but by evoking change dynamics among people who work and learn together. The focus on leadership, then, shifts from the individual as a leader to the actions of leadership that foster creative and productive learning within organizations.  Thus, leadership is fundamentally a system phenomena.  Leaders enable the conditions within which the process of adaptive leadership occurs but are not themselves the direct source of change (Marion & Uhl-Bein, 2002, pp. 389-418; Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).

In other words, leaders create an environment when change (within certain change boundaries) is okay.  Leaders don’t force the change themselves, they are “not themselves the direct source of change” (Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).  Rather, leaders foster an environment where change is welcomed, is expected and is encouraged.  Think of creative companies today, such as Apple Computer, whitch engineers the local environment to say “think outside of the box.”

So, if you are a student in a current course or a facilitator of a leadership group answer the following question.

  • How might you create an environment for change in your organization (supposing you were welcomed to do so)?
  • Write a few sentences about how you (or maybe some leader you observed) helped create an environment where change was welcome.  Just share some brief examples of how church leaders can encourage a organization-wide (i.e. system-wide) openness to change.

Hatch, M. J. (1997). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marion, R., & Uhl-Bein, M. (2001). Leadership in Complex Organizations. Leadership Quarterly, 12(4), 389-418.

Sims, B. D., & Lopes, J. P. (2011). Spiritual leadership and transformational change across cultures: The SLI leadership incubator. Journal of Religious Leadership, 10(2), 59-86.