Complexity Leadership, Generative Emergence, and Innovation in High Performing Nonprofit Organizations Open Access

AbstractComplexity Leadership, Generative Emergence, and Innovation in High Performing Nonprofit OrganizationsThis study examined the function of complexity leadership in the generative emergence of new ideas in a high-performance nonprofit organization. The conceptual framework for the study combines Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey’s (2007) Complexity Leadership Theory with Lichtenstein’s (2014) concept of generative emergence in order to investigate the growth of new ideas in high performance nonprofit organizations. The study was conducted at Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana (GICI), a high performing nonprofit that is one of 162 local Goodwill member agencies that make up Goodwill Industries International (GII). This empirical case study examined the emergence and successful operation of one innovative idea - the creation and operation of public charter high schools – with GICI’s operating territory. Data was collected through interviews with GICI leaders, board members, and community leaders, well a review of documents pertinent to the case. Merrriam’s (2009) case study framework guided the collection of the data, and coding followed the process outlined by Saldaña (2013). The study identified numerous specific leadership actions as they appeared through each stage of the generative emergence process. These were coded and analyzed through the lens of CLT in order to address the study’s research questions. Case findings determined that, in high-performing nonprofits, the function of complexity leadership in the generative emergence of new ideas is to identify, interpret, and respond to specific system behaviors so that the idea has the best possible chance to reach its full potential. The study shows that if a high performing non-profit organization is to employ complexity leadership to successfully grow and implement new, innovative ideas via generative emergence, a mix of administrative, enabling, and adaptive leadership actions must be employed during each phase of the process. The study has implications for both CLT and Generative Emergence because it provides specific, empirical examples of the elements articulated by each concept. The study offers implications for practice since the structure and definitions provided by both CLT and generative emergence may be helpful to organizations as they generate and manage the growth of new ideas.

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