Practising Social Change is a collaborative and reflective meeting place for practitioners in Applied Behavioural Science who seek to work at their developmental edge: curious, conceptual thinkers charged with supporting change in work relationships, in teams, in communities or in the larger society, and who may be able to learn from the experience of others in different parts of the world.

 

Author name: Gervase R. Bushe PhD and Robert J. Marshak PhD
The complex challenges of today’s organizations are calling for a new kind of heroic leader.
The unquestioned assumption that vision is a pre-requisite for successful change, and
that leaders need to be visionaries who can show us the way, presumes that the future
is predictable, organizations are controllable, and plans can be implemented. We argue
that these assumptions are responsible for the abysmal failure rate of organization-change
programs. In this paper we will describe how our ongoing study of newer change practices
(Bushe and Marshak, 2009, 2014, 2015) leads us to argue that successful leadership in
situations of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), which describe most
transformational change scenarios, will require very different assumptions about organizing
and leading from the prevailing ‘Performance Mindset’ that emphasizes instrumental and
measurable goal-setting and achievement. Rather than identifying what the change will
be, leaders need to identify and lead processes for engaging the necessary stakeholders
in emergent change processes. To do that successfully requires a ‘Generative Leader
Mindset’ that acknowledges and works with the social construction of organizations. We
identify seven assumptions we think underlie successful leadership practice in a VUCA
world. The continuing emphasis on being a solitary, strategic thinker who can envision viable
futures and the path to those futures does little to prepare today’s leaders for the complex,
ever-changing challenges they face. Instead, leaders need to be able to hold the space of
complexity and uncertainty in ways that encourage and enable emergent and generative
transformational change.

TRANSFORMING LEADERSHIP

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The complex challenges of today’s organizations are calling for a new kind of heroic leader.The unquestioned assumption that vision is a pre-requisite for successful change, andthat leaders need to be visionaries who can show us the way, presumes that the futureis predictable, organizations are controllable, and plans can be implemented. We arguethat these assumptions are responsible for the abysmal failure rate of organization-changeprograms. In this paper we will describe how our ongoing study of newer change practices(Bushe and Marshak, 2009, 2014, 2015) leads us to argue that successful leadership insituations of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), which describe mosttransformational change scenarios, will require very different assumptions about organizingand leading from the prevailing ‘Performance Mindset’ that emphasizes instrumental andmeasurable goal-setting and achievement. Rather than identifying what the change willbe, leaders need to identify and lead processes for engaging the necessary stakeholdersin emergent change processes. To do that successfully requires a ‘Generative LeaderMindset’ that acknowledges and works with the social construction of organizations. Weidentify seven assumptions we think underlie successful leadership practice in a VUCAworld. The continuing emphasis on being a solitary, strategic thinker who can envision viablefutures and the path to those futures does little to prepare today’s leaders for the complex,ever-changing challenges they face. Instead, leaders need to be able to hold the space ofcomplexity and uncertainty in ways that encourage and enable emergent and generativetransformational change.