The complexity of leadership and organisations

  • Imelda McCarthy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis contributes to the evolving process of moving the study of Complexity from the arena of metaphor to something real and operational. Acknowledging this phenomenon ultimately changes the underlying assumptions made about working environments and leadership; organisations are dynamic and so should their leaders be. Dynamic leaders are behaviourally complex. Behavioural Complexity is a product of behavioural repertoire - range of behaviours; and behavioural differentiation - where effective leaders apply appropriate behaviour to the demands of the situation. Behavioural Complexity was operationalised using the Competing Values Framework (CVF). The CVF is a measure that captures the extent to which leaders demonstrate four behaviours on four quadrants: Control, Compete, Collaborate and Create, which are argued to be critical to all types of organisational leadership. The results provide evidence to suggest Behavioural Complexity is an enabler of leadership effectiveness; Organisational Complexity (captured using a new measure developed in the thesis) moderates Behavioural Complexity and leadership effectiveness; and leadership training supports Behavioural Complexity in contributing to leadership effectiveness. Most definitions of leadership come down to changing people’s behaviour. Such definitions have contributed to a popularity of focus in leadership research intent on exploring how to elicit change in others when maybe some of the popularity of attention should have been on eliciting change in the leader them self. It is hoped that this research will provoke interest into the factors that cause behavioural change in leaders that in turn enable leadership effectiveness and in doing so contribute to a better understanding of leadership in organisations.
Date of Award1 Jun 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnn Davis (Supervisor)


  • leadership
  • Complexity Theory
  • Behavioural Complexity
  • Organisational Complexity
  • Training
  • Competing Values Framework

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