Exploring How Complexity Leader Behaviors Shape the Connectivity of Agents within a Complex Adaptive System: A Case Study Open Access
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This case study explored how specific behaviors shape the connections between people within an inter-sector health collaborative as an important antecedent to achieving collaborative outcomes. The primary research question guiding this study was, “How do individual complexity leader behaviors—a subset of complexity leadership behaviors—shape the connectivity of agents within a complex adaptive system made up of elected, unpaid volunteers immediately following their annual strategic planning retreat?” Methods included observations, interviews, and document review. Individual complexity leader behaviors (CLBs) were found to shape the connectivity of agents within this complex adaptive system in a variety of ways that depended on the extant level of connectivity between agents. Specifically, when experiencing low-negative connectivity, the utility of CLBs shaped the extant connectivity in a negative manner. When experiencing low-neutral connectivity, the utility of CLBs shaped the extant connectivity in either a negative or a positive manner, or in a manner that reinforced the status quo. When experiencing moderate connectivity, the utility of CLBs shaped the extant connectivity in a manner that reinforced the status quo or the behavior made no impact on the extant connectivity. Lastly, when experiencing high/deep connectivity, the utility of CLBs shaped the extant connectivity in a positive manner, in a manner that reinforced the status quo, or the behavior made no impact on the extant connectivity. There were also a number of additional findings related to the nature of both CLBs and the indices of connectivity. These findings are critical given that the relative connectivity of agents within a complex adaptive system is predictive of that system’s capacity to achieve outcomes. This study empirically supports and extends several core assumptions of complexity leadership theory; it also demonstrates that individual CLBs are identifiable and influential; that anybody can utilize CLBs; and that CLBs should be intentionally and mindfully utilized. Moreover, this study empirically supports the existence of non-linearity and (inter)connectivity in complex adaptive systems; it also demonstrates the versatility of connectivity and its indices. The results of this study have practical implications for inter-sector collaboratives—particularly related to how they utilize complexity leadership behaviors and achieve outcomes—and for capacity-building practitioners—specifically related to re-framing their conceptualization of leadership for their students.