A Framework for Understanding Leadership and Individual Requisite Complexity

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Authors: R.G. Lord

Publication Year: 2011

Source: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2041386610384757

Journal: Organizational Psychology Review

Volume: 1

Issue: 104

Categories: Adaptive Cycle, Organizational Change, Adaptive Cycle


This paper examines the relation of individual perceptual, conscious, and self-regulatory processes to the generation of requisite complexity in formal and informal leaders. Requisite complexity is a complex adaptive systems concept that pertains to the ability of a system to adjust to the requirements of a changing environment by achieving equivalent levels of complexity. We maintain that requisite complexity has both static and dynamic aspects that involve four domains (general, social, self, and affective complexity), with each being more or less important for leaders depending upon the task requirements they face. Dynamic complexity draws on these static components and also creates new aspects of complexity through the interaction of mental processes. The implications of these issues for understanding leader adaptation and development are also discussed.

Critical Reflection

Abstract In ‘A framework for understanding leadership and individual requisite complexity’, Lord (2011) provides insight on leadership focused on the self during organizational change. I argue that this relates directly to the adaptive cycle and Becks (1996) Spiral Dynamics. Keywords Adaptive Cycle, Psychology, Leadership, Requisite Complexity, Complex Adaptive Systems, Spiral Dynamics.

1. Introduction The current set of adaptive cycle literature addresses several aspects: general understanding (Gunderson, 2001), specific case studies (Pelling & Navarrete, 2011), management (Heifets, 2009) and information systems (Keen, 1981), to name a few. Psychology however, seems underrepresented. Of course, papers based on management and leadership have psychological characteristics, but are almost always written from business perspective. This is strange when we know that Spiral Dynamics (Beck, 1996) plays a prominent role in the ever ongoing organizational change process. Not in direct light of the adaptive cycle, Lord (2011) provides insight on leadership, organizational change and self & identity. References to spiral dynamics and the adaptive cycle are not given, but the text clearly refers to organizational change and leadership in relation to the self.

2. Individual Requisite complexity The article (Lord, 2011) describes a framework for the understanding leadership and individual requisite complexity. Requisite complexity is the match between the internal complexity of an organization and the complexity of its environment. Adaptive capacity is the capacity of a system (organization) to adapt to environmental change. This adaption and maladaptation in organizations is often viewed from a macro perspective; collective adaptive processes. Also in relation to leadership, which has a vital influence on these processes, the focus has been quite broad of nature. As the paper explains: “little emphasis has been placed on the complexity of formal and informal leaders who operate within these systems”. The four states formulated by both Abcouwer & Parson (2011) and Holling (2001), depicting organizational change and requisite complexity are directly related. Also, the individual influence of a leader has direct impact on these states (when, for example, a manager makes a ‘final’ decision).

2.1 Leadership Individuals can have direct impact on organizational change. The degree of adaptive capacity this individual brings is defined as individual requisite complexity. In general, it is believed that the complexity of a leaders’ adaptiveness relates to the complexity of its behavioral complexity (and with that, the direct impact of organizational change), and vice versa. Individual requisite complexity manifests itself in four domains:

  1. General Cognitive Complexity: the individual’s ability to differentiate and integrate abstract information in a particular domain.
  2. Social Complexity: the ability to perceive and integrate multiple aspects of social roles or relations.
  3. Self-complexity: the ability to manage the interface between a leader’s intrapersonal processes and the higher level interpersonal behaviors associated with leading.
  4. Affective Complexity: The ability to exhibit both behavioral flexibility and requisite complexity.

The interaction of these four domains may produce behavioral complexity and emerging cognitive and social structures that allow them to in turn influence their organizations to adjust to changing environments.

2.2 Framework The framework proposed in the literature consists of ten propositions, explaining how and why individual leadership affects the organization as a complex adaptive system in terms of individual and collective requisite complexity. In short: the influence of individual adaptiveness on internal and external complexity and organizational change. This makes it very relevant to the adaptive cycle of organizational change.

3. Spiral Dynamics Spiral Dynamics depict stages of emerging complexity of the individual. It defines the ‘why’ behind the behavior, processes and skills within complex systems. It also describes “the degrees of freedom to act appropriately in a given situation by using more fully the mind/brain which is there”. This relates directly to the individual requisite complexity stated above. The four domains of individual requisite complexity fits in the spiral dynamics spiral.