Leadership Imperatives for Complexity #3

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moonty/ Creative Commons license

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moonty/ Creative Commons license

Don’t make false choices (part 2)

In my last post , I talked about shifting from OR to AND with respect to two of the key paradoxes that are key to leading in complexity:

  • Stability AND fluidity
  • Connection AND separation

In each case, the two poles support each other; both sides of the paradox or polarity are key to healthy systems.

In the last post, we looked at fluidity and stability. This time, we’ll focus on connection and separation.


When parts of a complex system are connected well, the system is likely to be more innovative and adaptive. Information is shared, creative ideas are born, learning happens.

You can increase connectivity with small actions such as:

  • Bringing two teams together that don’t generally collaborate, even just for a one-time conversation.
  • Giving individuals cross-organizational assignments
  • Nurturing connection within yourself by bringing your attention to your internal state. Just notice.


Having adequate autonomy or separation can increase responsiveness in a complex system. In an organization, individuals need the ability to make decisions and take action without having to check with everyone first. Otherwise, it can feel like it’s impossible to get anything done.

You can increase separation by these actions:

  • Revisit the scope of authority you’ve given your team. Are there places where they can act without asking more than they currently are?
  • Notice if you habitually check with others before taking action on items within your realm of responsibility.
  • Invite more clarity in roles. I own this part, you own that part and on this part we are highly interdependent.
  • Pay attention to distinctions and boundaries. Feel where you end and your chair begins. Notice pauses between remarks in a conversation. Just notice.

Like fluidity and stability, connection and separation support each other. We can imagine (or may have experienced) organizations or social groups where one of these poles is very limited and the system is out of whack.

Take a look at your organization and at its context. Where is one pole (connectedness or separation) favored and the other weak? What small moves might you experiment with to enliven the weaker pole? What might you learn from those moves?

The next post will be Imperative #4 – Look out there and in here.