Leadership today is more challenging than ever. Leaders face globalization; increased competition for customers, markets, and talent; rapid change; speed and complexity; change in types of workers and related contracts; loss of purpose among workers; increased process management and decreased mobility-among other things.
Leaders today must create a pathway along a liminal landscape that is constantly shifting between chaos and order. In this state, people live outside their comfort zones; they experience a loss of meaning and direction. They are faced with doing things they have little experience with or have ne.ver done before. They realize that the future is not just unknown; it is unknowable.
A special type of leader is needed for this unknowable condition-one who can help provide direction, meaning, and contain anxiety for others, on one hand, and facilitate openness, ongoing learning, and reflection on the other. These leaders must not only embrace both order and chaos but also provide a way for people to reflect transformaupon what they are doing and enable needthem to make more useful sense of it. Leaders also need to be both effective mentors for others and effective learn-ers themselves.
Leaders can successfully navigate this territory by embracing both sides of the order I chaos paradox-transformation and emergence.
- Transformational leaders-those who bring order to guiding changemust not only convey a compelling vision and be sensitive and responsive to the needs of their constituents but also behave as role models who walk the talk. These leaders typically are officially designated and have the formal position, authority, and backing. They drive change, establish the vision, and mobilize the troops.
- Emergent leaders, on the other hand, may not be officially sanctioned and are more on the chaos side. They may, in fact, be part of what Ralph Stacy terms the shadow organization interactions among members of a legitimate system that fall outside that legitimate system. As people operate in the shadow system, leadership roles emerge. The roles then shift based on contributions people make and how they make that contribution known.
Another way leadership emerges is when an individual articulates and initiates potentially creative thought, discoveries, and behavior either on their own behalf or that of others. Often these leaders emerge from the ranks. Conversely, they may be officially sanctioned as leaders but have relationships and ways of working that go beyond what appears on charts, in position descriptions, or in job objectives.
They make the vision come alive by creating space for it to unfold through their own actions; they build commitment and confidence, create opportnities, and help others lead them selves. These leaders translate the guiding visions, values and beliefs into action by using them to shape their own behavior.
The attributes of both transformational and emergent leaders are needed. These attributes, more likely to be manifest in a team of individuals, are essential for navigating the liminal space between chaos and order. The manner in which they are combined and applied will depend on the leaders and their organizations.