Leading in a Complex World: A Dashboard for Managing Complexity
I’ve learned over the years that my most effective executive coaching leadership clients know the “why” of what they are passionate in achieving. They get excited in my office telling me inspiring stories of their hopes and struggles. They have a growth versus fixed mindset, and are optimistic and forward thinking. They live and work on the edge and flourish.

One of my CEO executive coaching clients confided in me, that he was struggling to convince several of his senior executives to create a more simplified strategy. The data from a recent company engagement survey indicated that far too many employees weren’t engaged with the mission and vision of the company. The strategy had too many priorities and they couldn’t focus their energies.

The CEO wanted to execute a new cutting edge strategy for the company, but was encountering a lot of resistance from some executive team members fearful of change. We engaged in a pretty fierce coaching conversation about how to help his leaders develop a more growth-oriented mindset. They needed to learn how to embrace the new strategy and change.


“If everything is a priority nothing is a priority.” – Alan Weiss

The CEO and I discussed several questions focusing on complexity that the CEO would explore with his executive team.

1. What value do we want to provide about a year from now? What are we passionate about and great at, which will help people in a year's time?

2. Who are our ideal clients for that value?

3. What mechanisms do we choose to use to reach them and convey value.

At our next coaching meeting, the CEO reported that his senior executives found the strategy questions provided clarity and were on board. The members of the executive team thought that if he was so passionate about his belief in creating a new strategy for the company that they began to pay attention to their own habits and patterns of behavior that caused resistance and were counterproductive to creating and executing the new strategy.

So what’s right for your company? Theorists want to make universal statements that would be prescriptions for every business. But it would be more relevant to look at a company’s unique situation and then assess its position in the industry, its internal capabilities, and then the fit between them.

A Dashboard for Managing Complexity

Leading people and organizations is fundamentally more complicated than it was 20 years ago—and it’s not getting any easier. Economic and global uncertainties, along with innovative technologies, complicate efforts to run a business.

Businesses are also becoming more intrinsically complex. It’s harder to predict outcomes because intricate systems interact in unexpected ways.

Interpreting data also proves more challenging because:

1. The degree of complexity may lie beyond our cognitive limits.

2. Past behavior may not predict future actions.

3. In a complex system, an outlier may have a disproportionate impact.

In a September 2011 Harvard Business Review article, business professors Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath distinguish between organizations that are merely complicated and those that are genuinely complex.

Complicated Versus Complex

Simple systems feature few—and extremely predictable—interactions. When you turn a light switch on or off, you expect the same result every time.

Complicated systems have many moving parts, and they operate in patterned ways. We can make accurate predictions about how they will behave. For example, flying a commercial airplane involves complicated, but predictable, steps. As a result, it’s reliably safe.

In contrast, complex systems may operate in patterned ways, but their interactions are continually changing. Air traffic control is a complex system that constantly changes in reaction to weather, aircraft downtimes and other critical variables. The system is predictable not because it produces the same results from the same starting conditions, but because it has been designed to continuously adjust as its components change in relation to one another.

Two problems commonly surface in complex systems: unintended consequences and difficulties in making sense of a situation. With multiple independent and interrelated parts in a system, it’s hard to predict all of the possible consequences of a change in one component. And with so many data and informational components to deal with, it’s tough for an individual decision maker to visualize and master an entire complex system.

Most executives tend to overestimate the amount of information they can process, but humans have cognitive limits. No manager can understand every aspect of a complex business, yet many refuse to acknowledge this reality.

You can develop the qualities of positive leadership by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more conscious, and tap into the intrinsic motivation of followers? Positive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a positive leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture mindful conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.