Through the Looking Glass of Complexity Leadership Theory: A Biomedical Case Study in Radical Innovation Leadership Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
This case study viewed radical product innovation as a complex-adaptive process, and used complexity leadership theory to understand and describe the interactions and relationships among individuals, groups, and information that create effective leadership in a biomedical research and development context. Complexity leadership theory proposes that adaptation emerges through interactions between agents (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). A single biomedical organization was the research site for a snowball sampling design including radical product innovation meeting observations and semi-structured executive interviews about contextual issues and leadership expectations. Meetings wereobserved for task, tenor, and conduct of interactions and relationships and for evidence of complexity leadership--adaptive, administrative, and enabling dimensions. Study findings showed the organization responded to the context by creating structures for collaborative interactions, a learning orientation across the entire organization, fluid leadership, and the use of humor for neutralization of conflict and dealing with ambiguity. Four specific leadership mechanisms enabled radical innovation efforts. Complexity leadership theory fits radical product innovation leadership better than do dyadic leadership theories. It focuses on agent interactions between individuals and groups across organizational levels and formal structures. It allows leadership to be studied in the collective sense. It encourages adaptive learning and the use of informal and emergent leadership--optimal in ambiguous environments--and also encompasses system and process building, and culture creation, as well as administration.