The importance of perspective taking: a lesson from life

perspective taking: ballet shoes

Leadership emerges from the interactions between people and good leadership is exemplified by exchanges that leave all parties feeling that they have been understood and their interests accounted for. Good leadership is therefore relational not transactional. And at the heart of this kind of leadership is perspective taking capacity – the ability to understand the … Read more

Tipping point leadership in a complex system: lessons from dancing guy

tipping point leadership: dancing guy

Here is Derek Sivers’ great TED talk about the role of leadership and followers when it comes to creating a movement.

Derek highlights the important moment when it becomes more uncool not to dance than to dance. This is the point where the leaders efforts pay off and the followers take on the leader’s ideas to create a movement.

And although he doesn’t put it in these terms, what Derek is describing is a tipping point. Hence what we are seeing is evidence of tipping point leadership.

In complex systems, a tipping point is a critical point at which which the system shifts radically and potentially irreversibly into a different state of equilibrium. It represents a sudden and extreme change of state, rather than a gradual shift.

Interestingly, researchers W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne have identified, how tipping point leadership can work in organisations.

They say that tipping point leadership:

“hinges on the insight that in any organization, once the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people are engaged, conversion to a new idea will spread like an epidemic, bringing about fundamental change very quickly.

The theory suggests that such a movement can be unleashed only by agents who make unforgettable and unarguable calls for change, who concentrate their resources on what really matters, who mobilize the commitment of the organization’s key players, and who succeed in silencing the most vocal naysayers.”

Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. (2003). Tipping point leadership. harvard business review81(4), 60-69.

And as dancing guy illustrates, if you keep at it long enough, anything can happen.

65 Effective leadership questions: the power to motivate and inspire

effective leadership questions: female leader

Effective leadership questions are at the heart of great leadership. This is because great leadership is relational, not transactional. As leadership expert Michael Cavanagh contends, “the quality of the conversation determines the quality of the relationships and the quality of the relationships determines the quality of the organisational system”. And, in my view, it is … Read more

Three complexity leadership principles for managing in a new role

complexity leadership principles: path

In this video I reflect on some of the challenges I’ve been facing in a new leadership role that I have taken up, and relate these to some of my earlier learning on effective leadership.

There are three complexity leadership principles that my former tutor, Michael Cavanagh, suggested are especially applicable to leadership in the modern complex work environment:

• The need to focus on connectedness and process;
• The need to take a broader systemic view; and
• The need to have regard to the ‘greater temporal horizon’.

And although this sounds quite academic, these leadership principles do have practical application, which are examined in the video and below.

Complexity leadership principle 1: greater focus on connectedness and process

I am new to an organisation, in a new role, while the organisation itself is going through some very significant changes. It is therefore a struggle for me, in these early days, to find my place in the organisation. It is hard to get to know all the aspects of my role, where the role is going, and what the boundaries of it are.

What is clear to me, given that there is so much complex change taking place, is that I can’t possibly grasp it all in one go. So what this first complexity leadership principle says is that instead of trying to know all the detail and achieve specific goals, it is more effective to focus on the processes you can influence, and the connections between the individuals within the business. In this way you are able to get a sense of the workings of the organisation and can begin to address the challenges you face.

Complexity leadership principle 2: a broader systemic view

We can do this by recognising that the organisation we work in is a complex system and that it operates within various other systems (e.g. within industry, legal structures and so on). Complex systems consist of multiple connections that give rise to complex non-linear causes and effects. Outcomes are unpredictable and emerge from the interactions of the system. Therefore, we need to appreciate that this restricts our ability to influence things the whole time.

The unpredictability makes us feel uncomfortable. But, despite this, rather than narrowing your focus, limiting your view to the small piece of the world you can influence, it’s important, for effective leadership, to try to adapt your thinking to take account of systemic nature of the operating environment.

Complexity leadership principle 3: broader temporal horizon

It is also important for leaders to recognise that we operate in various timescales. Not everything is clear in the short term and not everything can be achieved at once. So whilst there might be a short-term need for certain deliverables to be actioned, there is a broader, longer term pattern that will unfold as a result of the system’s interaction, and we need to pay attention to this pattern as well.

It is also very useful to look back, because in a complex world, it is only with hindsight that we can see the patterns of cause and effect that have occurred. Thus reviewing how events unfolded in the past, we can learn about the kinds of patterns that emerge within our environment. So, whilst we may not be able to predict future events, we can exercise more effective leadership by preparing for the kinds of eventualities that are possible. This is relevant especially when you’re new in a position, facing significant a range of unfamiliar and unknown challenges.


Cavanagh, M. J. (2016). The coaching engagement in the twenty-first century: New paradigms for complex times. In Beyond Goals (pp. 183-216). Routledge.