Complexity in Business

Leadership Imperative

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Rear-view Mirror:

The past does not help predict the future. Why? It’s simple. Nothing is really quite the same as it was in the past. And, we like to lament, our world is getting ever more complex at an accelerating pace. We, the curious, hairless apes, seem bent on accelerating that complexity even faster. We cannot help ourselves—we must unravel the mysteries we perceive. To do that, we humans create new tools to explore. We drive to discover new answers and find even more complex mysteries. And the cycle of increasing complexity will therefore continue.

Complexity in Business
“The Leadership Imperative is simply this: The development of leadership effectiveness must, at a minimum, keep pace with the rate of change and the rate of escalating complexity.”
—Robert J. Anderson, Mastering Leadership


Our businesses and our leadership models are not immune to this phenomenon of increasing complexity. A common mistake is to believe we can continue to lead in the same way we always have in the past. How is it that so many of us think that leadership skills can avoid upgrading, improving, and continuous change to keep up with our businesses? It is indeed a leadership imperative that we sharpen the leadership saw if our companies are to thrive.


Business entities have grown complex for many different reasons. Of course, technology is the most obvious reason for the growing complexity. But it can only shoulder a portion of the burden. Humans now number around 7.5 billion individuals on this planet. Many of those people are mobile for one reason or another, and so we have growing diversity in our societies. That has to add to the complexity of our social lives. From a business point of view, many, perhaps even most, of our companies are now global companies. Even the smallest of organizations are exposed to the wider world through their internet presence. Our supply chains are, of necessity, global supply chains, and our markets for products (and some services) are diverse culturally and geographically.

Our workforces are diverse just as our societies are. In addition to ethnic and cultural diversity, we are dealing with a wide range of ages in our employees. Today, it is common to have four or five generations working in our companies.


Paradoxically, the only way leaders can safely navigate the ever-changing business landscape is to make sure they upgrade their own skills at the same or faster rate. And they have to bring others on the leadership team along with them. An imperative is something that is of vital importance, crucial. We need leaders who are systems thinkers. Who can embrace complexity and entertain opposing concepts in their minds at the same time? Our world is not black or white. Leaders are given only the very difficult decisions to make, the easy ones are already made by the team.

What are you doing to up your own leadership game? How are you designing your business systems to provide growth and guidance for the organization? What are you doing to encourage your leadership team to continue growing? Are you willing to slow down to speed up? I hope that in 2017 you make time to sharpen the leadership saw.