And Now for Something Different in Leadership: Complexity Leadership

close up shot of a blue pansy butterfly
Photo by Erik Karits on

What the heck is Complexity Leadership?

As an agreed-upon definition is difficult to find I think it best to provide examples: the human body, family, planet, ecosystems, beehive, and organisms.

Complexity Leadership (CL) is based on collaboration rather than on the familiar top-down hierarchy. Can you imagine being in collaboration with your boss?

Another thing to remember is that everything you do has an effect on everything else.

I think creating a workplace environment in which there is no fear of punishment when reporting errors and/or accidents. The idea of reporting such things would ideally lead to investigation to get to the cause and from there make any necessary changes.

I first started looking into this type of leadership as an ideal system for nurses and healthcare environments. One of my interests in that area was to examine errors that might be caused by nurses being overworked and tired – something to consider now, during the pandemic. A CL model would get input from the nurses and others working and collaborating with them on how this might be remedied, or at least decreased. After all, errors made in the hospital could have fatal results. Maybe the entire healthcare system could be examined using a CL model.

What about your work environment? How could CL be used?

First of all, Complexity Theory, on which Complexity Leadership (CL) is based, is not complicated. Complexity Theory is the examination of complex adaptive systems.

The characteristics of Complexity Theory include:

Emergence – the whole is larger than the parts; the interaction of parts leads to a complex system




Small changes can lead to a large outcome (think butterfly effect)


Constant change and innovation

What would this look like where you work?

What would this look like in healthcare?

What would it look like if the leaders had used this at COP26?