LSE Complexity Research Programme: Leadership and Complexity

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Being just around the corner from The London School of Economics, I signed up quickly when this event popped up in David Gurteen’s events feed.

Hosted by Prof. Eve Mitleton-Kelly who founded the LSE’s complexity Research programme, the afternoon featured presentations from Prof. Sue Richards and Lynne Sedgemore. I’d expected to see more familiar faces, though I recognised Ed Rosen from South Bank University from Gurteen Knowledge Cafés.

Prof. Richards spoke about her experiences of UK public administration, the changing relationships between central and local government. The UK “tightened up the mechanism of the central state” since 1979, but is now experiencing diminishing returns and needs “leaders… to work more effectively in complex adaptive systems.” This, she said, could result from greater diversity in Whitehall, the “burning platform of public expenditure…” and supported by the experience of the Civil Service which helped set up the Coalition.

Prof. Richards’ final slide was a summary of the traits she felt were required of modern leaders:

  • Acknowledge complexity – governance, policy and management approaches
  • Government as one actor among many, but with a pivotal role in influencing
  • Embrace the power of self-organization but set-out the parameters
  • Harness the power of small changes that can produce large results, but  course correction will be required;
  • Both competition and collaboration will be part of the dynamic of any complex endeavour;
  • Connect with a wide array of other actors – gain knowledge and relationships
  • Learn to reframe public issues in affirmative ways that build on strengths, dissolves tensions and leads to action;
  • Embrace diversity as it provides new energy for innovation
  • Build capacities for both “exploration” and “exploitation” and maintain an appropriate balance;
  • Explore the potential of multi-level governance arrangements in (i) managing the cross-scale interactions that characterize complex public issues and (ii) to buffer the negative effects of surprises, tipping points and cascading crisis

Lynne Sedgemore of 157 group then took to the floor, every inch the modern leader. A self-confessed “personal development addict”, she talked about herself and shared her passion for leadership and learning. The scope of her passion is broad – even spiral dynamics was name-checked – and testament to the need for constant experimentation.

I spoke briefly to Prof. Richards about the challenges of helping leaders educated better understand complexity during the refreshment break, after which the group reconvened to discuss the same point. Vinay Gupta‘s comment stuck in my mind as he recommended Cynefin, then suggested the four (five, I think!) domains needed to be simplified or renamed (!!) to aid understanding.

I didn’t stay afterwards, so look forward to the next session on 29th June: “Inner Complexity – an introduction to the Landscape of the Mind”; I’ll be keeping mine open as Lynne Hopkinson shows excerpts from a film about the development tool she has created: “Interviews with individuals talking about their experiences of using LoM are complemented by the results of an fMRI brain scanning study.”

(Slides and audio available here.)

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