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“Three keys to leading emergent organizing” by Jim Hazy

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Too often we feel that we are in control at a fine grain and local level, but too often in emergent contexts emergence it unfolding at a coarse grain and macro level in which we cannot control.  Traditional leadership still may still apply but the context matters more.

An important first move is fine-grained to empathize with followers: what are their needs? A theory is that, as humans develop we move from dependence, independence, to inter-dependence.  Different leadership frameworks speak to these developmental needs.  For example, charismatic leadership speaks to dependence needs.  Transformational leadership speaks to independence needs, to support autonomy. Shared leadership speaks to interdependence needs.  What Jim emphasizes is that these needs are always there simultaneously and all the time in an organization.

At a higher, coarse-grain level, leaders guide the emergence of the new order at a larger scale more than any individual.  Individuals can influence emergent organizing. Drawing on work in the animal kingdom, there are lessons at how these systems emerge based on the threats, energy and information that gets fed into the system:  from random milling around, to internal circulation structures, to collective directional alignment.   Each has different levels of order and form at the macro-level.  Given this there are different practices that speak to these levels of form:


  • Community building: practices that create dependence, belonging and group identity.  This practice is answering questions such as: who are we and who is them? Who do I trust (and not trust)? Am I safe here? It creates a sense of belonging, security, and connection.
  • Administrative: practices that support the work processes, keeping energy moving and activity throughout the organization.  It builds structures that support reputation, status, predictability, and performance. Its about entraining a stable process.
  • Generative: practices that surface the purpose, goals, and vision of the organization. They enable the group to become an actor in its ecosystem.  The practices here involve trying different actions, sensing it, and cutting losses early.


The challenge is how to simultaneously support all three:  how to sustain administrative of current capabilities and support the exploration of new one through generative leadership?  Do we integrate them? Structurally separate them?

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