Leadership development through appreciative inquiry : complexity thinking in the non-government (NGO) sector.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
“much of what we know about leadership is today redundant because it is literally designed for a different operating model, a different context, a different time” (Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin, p. 4). This thesis describes a project that was designed with a focus on exploring ways to enhance leadership capacity in non-government organisations operating in Christchurch, New Zealand. It included 20 CEOs, directors and managers from organisations that cover a range of settings, including education, recreation, and residential and community therapeutic support; all working with adolescents. The project involved the creation of a peer-supported professional learning community that operated for 14 months; the design and facilitation of which was informed by the Appreciative Inquiry principles of positive focus and collaboration. At the completion of the research project in February 2010, the leaders decided to continue their collective processes as a self-managing and sustaining professional network that has grown and in 2014 is still flourishing under the title LYNGO (Leaders of Youth focussed NGOs). Two compelling findings emerged from this research project. The first of these relates to efficacy of a complexity thinking framework to inform the actions of these leaders. The leaders in this project described the complexity thinking framework as the most relevant, resonant and dynamic approach that they encountered throughout the research project. As such this thesis explores this complexity thinking informed leadership in detail as the leaders participating in this project believed it offers an opportune alternative to more traditional forms of positional leadership and organisational approaches. This exploration is more than simply a rationale for complexity thinking but an iterative in-depth exploration of ‘complexity leadership in action’ which in Chapter 6 elaborates on detailed leadership tools and frameworks for creating the conditions for self-organisation and emergence. The second compelling finding relates to efficacy of Appreciative Inquiry as an emergent research and development process for leadership learning. In particular the adoption of two key principles; positive focus and inclusivity were beneficial in guiding the responsive leadership learning process that resulted in a professional learning community that exhibited high engagement and sustainability. Additionally, the findings suggest that complexity thinking not only acts as a contemporary framework for adaptive leadership of organisations as stated above; but that complexity thinking has much to offer as a framework for understanding leadership development processes through the application of Appreciative Inquiry (AI)-based principles. A consideration of the components associated with complexity thinking has promise for innovation and creativity in the development of leaders and also in the creation of networks of learning. This thesis concludes by suggesting that leaders focus on creating hybrid organisations, ones which leverage the strengths (and minimise the limitations) of self-organising complexity-informed organisational processes, while at the same time retaining many of the strengths of more traditional organisational management structures. This approach is applied anecdotally to the place where this study was situated: the post-earthquake recovery of Christchurch, New Zealand.