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As complex systems, organizations exist far from equilibrium where the ongoing interaction of system components leads to emergent and self-organizing behavior. What, then, is the role of leadership in systems where change often emerges in unexpected ways? In this paper, we build on the work of Marion and Uhl-Bien who suggest that in complex systems leaders enable rather than control the future. While traditional views of leadership focus on the leader’s responsibility for determining and directing the future through heavy reliance on control mechanisms, we offer empirical support for a different view of leadership based on a complexity perspective of organizations. Our findings show that as enablers, leaders disrupt existing patterns of behavior, encourage novelty, and make sense of emerging events for others. The results of our qualitative study include a set of research propositions as well as a discussion of the implications for managers and researchers.
Published in The Leadership Quarterly 18:4 (August 2007), pp. 341–356; doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.04.004 Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.