Transforming Leadership

The complex challenges of today’s organizations are calling for a new kind of heroic leader. The unquestioned assumption that vision is a pre-requisite for successful change, and that leaders need to be visionaries who can show us the way, presumes that the future is predictable, organizations are controllable, and plans can be implemented. We argue that these assumptions are responsible for the abysmal failure rate of organization-change programs.

In this paper we will describe how our ongoing study of newer change practices (Bushe and Marshak, 2009, 2014, 2015) leads us to argue that successful leadership in situations of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), which describe most transformational change scenarios, will require very different assumptions about organizing and leading from the prevailing ‘Performance Mindset’ that emphasizes instrumental and measurable goal-setting and achievement.

Rather than identifying what the change will be, leaders need to identify and lead processes for engaging the necessary stakeholders in emergent change processes. To do that successfully requires a ‘Generative Leader Mindset’ that acknowledges and works with the social construction of organizations. We identify seven assumptions we think underlie successful leadership practice in a VUCA world. The continuing emphasis on being a solitary, strategic thinker who can envision viable futures and the path to those futures does little to prepare today’s leaders for the complex, ever-changing challenges they face. Instead, leaders need to be able to hold the space of complexity and uncertainty in ways that encourage and enable emergent and generative transformational change.


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