Hersey (1984) defines leadership as the ability to influence others to contribute willingly to the goals of an organization. Leaders have followers whom they work with to attain the goals that have been created. They provide a guideline about how things should happen in the organization. Leaders aim at working with and through people to achieve the desired objectives (Graeff, 1983).
The complexity leadership theory
Complexity leadership theory is a new leadership concept developed to assist people carry out their leadership activities efficiently. The complex leadership theory suggests that organizations are made up of complicated systems which are made up of diversified agency relationships that interact and affect each other. This inter-relationship leads to bottom-up behavior between all the agents. Complex leaders seek to achieve a network that links all activities and people together to achieve success through diversity of activities. Interdependence among different units in the organization is encouraged to achieve synergies from all departments (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).
According to Morse, Buss and Kinghorn (2007), complexity theory was established to augment the existing types of leadership but not to replace them. Complex leaders focus more on the process of achieving results rather than the results themselves. For example, complexity leadership provides that efficiency in communication is important to achieve a smooth system of operating things within the organization. In addition, complex leaders provide that continuous learning is an important process of achieving goals within the organization (Morse, Buss & Kinghorn, 2007).
Other leadership theories
Several theorists have come up with different versions which describe leaders. Great man theory explains that leaders have traits which they are born with and that these traits are unique to each person (Changing mind, 2010). The trait theory is similar to the great man theory in that it provides that great leaders have specific characteristics (Jones, Heijden, & De Bono, 2008). Situational leadership theory requires the leader to apply different leadership skills depending on the situation (Hersey & Blanchard, 1988). On the other hand, behavioural leadership theories explain that leaders can be made and are not born (Lussier & Achua, 2009).
Under participative leadership, decision making also involves the followers other than the leader being the sole decision maker (Cherry, 2010). According to Lussier (2008), delegating leadership suits well where followers have demonstrated know-how and commitment. Under the coaching leadership model, the leader acts like a teacher to the followers and he/she guides them towards achieving the goals of the company (Craig, 2009).
Contrast between complexity leadership theories and traditional leadership
Complexity leadership differs from other traditional leadership theories in a number of ways. Leaders are said to be created by the systems in an organization under the complex leadership theories. This is achieved by the use of the process of aggregation and emergence. On the other hand, the traditional leadership theories provide that leaders create the system within an organization (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).
A complex system requires leaders to use indirect leadership while the traditional leadership theories prefer the use of direct leadership. Complexity leadership theories do not encourage the use of bureaucracy as compared to the traditional leadership. Traditional leadership theories encourage the use of top-down leadership control system as opposed to the complex leadership theories. Bottom-up behavior is accepted by complex leadership theories contrary to the traditional leadership theories. Leaders are encouraged to control their temper under the complex leadership theories. They are supposed to control systems to ensure emergent issues are dealt with amicably (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).
Complexity leadership admits informal systems within the organization and tries to simplify complex organizational systems. This is achieved by creating a small difference between leaders and their followers. As such the distinction between leaders and followers is blurred by creating an informal structure of operating activities within an organization. Leadership is seen as an informal system of control where superiors interact freely with their juniors. There are no formal barriers of communication which may hinder people from all levels to interact with each other (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).
Complex leaders have the capacity to distribute control over resources to all sectors of the organization. Such leaders are said to have distribution intelligence such that they can determine the best strategies for distributing the resources available to them. Through distribution intelligence, complex leaders are able to connect between diverse issues within the organization. In the modern days, organizations have become complex and there is need to combine all resources to achieve success. Complex leaders are required in the modern organization to carry out complex processes involved in the organization (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).
Traditional leadership theories accept the use of commands and controls in achieving goals within the organization. On the other hand, complex leadership theories support the reduction of controls and commands to ensure the entire system has minimum controls. Complex leaders provide their followers with adequate support and freedom to conduct their activities in their own ways. Complex leadership has led to the emergence of innovative ideas of conducting activities within the organization (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2002).The need for innovative ideas has generated the need for a system that allows people in an organization to have a favourable environment for developing these innovations.
The great man theory of leadership differs from the complexity leadership theory in that great man theory perceives leadership as a trait that a person is born with and which is genetic in nature. On the other hand, complexity theory supports that leadership is acquired by experiencing some aspects in life. Great man theory proposes that leaders are specifically males while the complexity leadership theory supports that anybody can become a leader irrespective of their gender. According to great man theory, leaders are special people with special qualities and are destined to lead. Complexity theory supports that leaders are ordinary people who acquire leadership skills through experiences in life (Bolden et al., 2003).
The trait leadership theory is similar to the great man leadership theory because it accepts the fact that leaders have unique traits. This theory was applied in the military to describe specific leadership traits that the soldiers must possess. People with specific characteristics could be selected, trained, and recruited into leadership roles within the military. On the contrary, complexity leadership theory does not support the fact that leaders must possess specific qualities. In fact anybody can become a leader as far as the proper environment is provided to support his/her leadership skills (Bolden et al., 2003).
Transactional leadership theories explain that there is a contractual relationship between the leader and the follower such that there are some rewards and recognition acquired when the two parties co-exist. The relationship between the leader and the follower is a mutual one because both parties aim at achieving benefits from the contract. On the other hand, complexity leadership theory does not establish a mutual relationship between the leader and the followers but instead the two parties are perceived to contribute willingly for the benefit of the organization (Bolden et al., 2003). It is not in all situations that the leader and the follower will benefit from the relationship.
Similarities between complexity leadership theories and traditional leadership
Great man theory provides that leaders are people with special qualities and that they are able to guide their followers to achieve goals of the organization. Similarly, complexity leadership theory supports that leaders must be unique from their followers and they should possess skills which are outstanding so that they can influence their followers to contribute willingly to the goals and objectives of the organization (Bolden et al., 2003). By being unique, leaders show superior qualities than their followers and this provides them with power to influence others. Leaders are said to have the ability to control the decisions of others and it is this skill that makes them unique.
According to situational leadership theory, leaders apply varied skills depending on the situation being experienced in the organization. Leaders have the freedom to decide the actions to take in different circumstances and this requires them to have adequate knowledge about performing different activities in the organization (Marriner-Tomey, 2004). Different levels of the organization require different leadership styles. Similarly, the complexity leadership theory requires all formal systems to be removed in an organization for effective implementation of goals. Informal systems are accepted by the complexity leadership theory such that leaders can use these systems to reduce bureaucracy for effectiveness and efficiency in achieving goals and objectives. Behavioural leadership theories focus on what leaders do instead of their qualities. On the other hand, complexity leadership theories explain that it is the acts of people that determine whether they are leaders or not. The aspect of qualities that leaders have is not closely associated with leadership in both theories (Bolden et al., 2003).
Transformational leadership theory provides that a leader should aim at inspiring the followers. The leader must have passion and vision to achieve great things by influencing his/her followers. They must provide enthusiasm and energy to the followers. Similarly, the complexity leadership theory requires leaders to be proactive and to create energy at the organization by influencing all the stakeholders to contribute collectively to the goals which have been agreed upon. The theory suggests that leaders aim at transforming the current status of the organization by encouraging the followers to have passion for change. The overall aim of the two theories is to bring change within the organization by developing systems which transform the status quo and bringing new and innovative strategies (Hacker, & Roberts, 2003).
Advantages of complexity leadership theory
It is important to note that complexity leadership theory provides a modern approach to solving problems within the organization. Organizational systems change and new challenges are encountered in each activity. This requires the application of leadership processes which are relevant with the new changes in an organization. For example, modern workplaces have experienced cultural diversity and this requires developing better strategies of uniting all people to avoid conflicts (Yammarino & Dansereau, 2006).
Complexity theory encourages employees to be innovative about the processes they undertake to produce goods and services in the organization. This has led to product differentiation in many organizations and companies have achieved competitive advantage from the innovations developed by employees. Complex leaders encourage their followers to use the available technologies to develop innovative products to manufacture a wide variety of products (Yammarino & Dansereau, 2006).
Complexity leadership has helped solve problems arising in organizations due to globalization effect. Since globalization started having effect on the organizations, many leaders have encountered problems relating to cultural diversity. Complexity leadership helps managers solve the cultural conflicts within the organizations.
Disadvantages of complexity leadership theory
The theory introduces informal systems within the organization as a way of achieving goals and objectives. These informal systems may create conflicts with the formal systems because they bring different approaches towards the management of resources. Informal processes are not legitimate and can cause failure in some systems which require formalities (Yammarino & Dansereau, 2006). For example, giving employees the freedom to perform duties in their own way as a way of encouraging innovation brings with it a laisser-faire management system which can create a lot of loopholes in managing resources within the organization.
According to Yammarino and Dansereau (2006, p. 444) “complexity leadership theory is deficit as a model of organizational reality.” This means that this theory exists only in theory and cannot be practically utilized in organizations. The theory provides an ideal framework of performing business within an organization and this cannot be achieved in all situations. Yammarino and Dansereau (2006) opined that the theory is not fully developed to provide adequate guidelines towards solving organizational problems. Compared to other theories, complexity leadership theory lacks in some ways and cannot be fully relied upon as the main guideline when solving problems in an organization.
Real life example of a complexity leader
Steve Jobs is the Chief Executive Officer for Apple Inc and has been able to manage the company by applying complexity leadership style. Steve Jobs has encouraged his employees to make use of the resources of the company to develop innovative products which are competitive in the market. Apple has managed to come up with new products in the market such as the iPhone, iPod, iWork and others. Steve has managed to use cultural diversity of the employees as strength to develop products which focus on the cultural aspects of the customers. If it were not for the good leadership skills of Jobs, Apple could not have been able to withstand the stiff competition from other companies in the industry such as Microsoft, IBM and others. Apple has diversified its products in the areas of computer software, computer hardware and electronics by the application of new technologies (Royston, 2009).
Leadership provides a person with the skills to work with people to achieve the pre-determined goals and objectives. Complexity leadership theory has brought change in the organizations and traditional leadership concepts are no longer useful. The new theory focuses on reducing bureaucracy and formal procedures in organizations which may hinder people from achieving the goals of the organization. Both the traditional and complexity leadership theories are similar in that they emphasize the fact that leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their followers contribute willingly to the goals and objectives of the organization.