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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Complex Systems


The Where-How of Leadership Emergence (WHOLE) Landscape: Charting Emergent Collective Leadership


Leadership resources are constantly adapting to the challenge of the dynamic and complex systems in which they must function. To understand the changing leadership types and to better guide the development of new leadership resources, we propose a two-dimensional leadership landscape that provides a perspective into past leadership resources and identifies new frontiers of leadership. In the Where-How of Leadership Emergence (WHOLE) Landscape, one dimension is where leadership occurs – ranging from a single individual to the entire collective – and the other is how leadership arises – ranging from predictable – being based on the structure of the system, to unpredictable – being opportunistic and/or emergent. For simplicity this landscape is divided into four quadrants; two of the quadrants are identified with traditional centralized leadership resources: 1) power- based, hierarchical and/or predictable leadership resources and 2) the opportunistic, unpredictable, and/or emergent hero or leader. We argue that the other two quadrants for distributed leadership are the frontiers of leadership. The structured and distributed quadrant encompasses both familiar collective leadership systems (e.g., direct democracies) and systems based on information technology (e.g., prediction markets). The emergent and distributed quadrant – emergent collective leadership (ECL) – is identified as the newest frontier and innovation in the most challenging dynamic and complex environments. A variety of issues with ECL are discussed: its validity as a resource, organizational conditions for its occurrence, individual and collective requirements for a functioning ECL process, and the embodiment of ECL solutions in organizational structures.

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