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A Dashboard for Managing Complexity

Managing Complexity

I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the CEO of a Silicon Valley High Tech company. We talked about how leading people and organizations today is much more complicated than it was even a few years ago. Constant economic and global change, along with innovative technologies, provides complex challenges to running a business.

A Dashboard for Managing Complexity

Leading people and organizations is fundamentally more complicated than it was 20 years ago—and it’s not getting any easier. Economic and global uncertainties, along with innovative technologies, complicate efforts to run a business.

Businesses are also becoming more intrinsically complex. It’s harder to predict outcomes because intricate systems interact in unexpected ways.

Interpreting data also proves more challenging because:

1. The degree of complexity may lie beyond our cognitive limits.

2. Past behavior may not predict future actions.

3. In a complex system, an outlier may have a disproportionate impact.

In a September 2011 Harvard Business Review article, business professors Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath distinguish between organizations that are merely complicated and those that are genuinely complex.

Complicated Versus Complex

Simple systems feature few—and extremely predictable—interactions. When you turn a light switch on or off, you expect the same result every time.

Complicated systems have many moving parts, and they operate in patterned ways. We can make accurate predictions about how they will behave. For example, flying a commercial airplane involves complicated, but predictable, steps. As a result, it’s reliably safe.

In contrast, complex systems may operate in patterned ways, but their interactions are continually changing. Air traffic control is a complex system that constantly changes in reaction to weather, aircraft downtimes and other critical variables. The system is predictable not because it produces the same results from the same starting conditions, but because it has been designed to continuously adjust as its components change in relation to one another.

Two problems commonly surface in complex systems: unintended consequences and difficulties in making sense of a situation. With multiple independent and interrelated parts in a system, it’s hard to predict all of the possible consequences of a change in one component. And with so many data and informational components to deal with, it’s tough for an individual decision maker to visualize and master an entire complex system.

Most executives tend to overestimate the amount of information they can process, but humans have cognitive limits. No manager can understand every aspect of a complex business, yet many refuse to acknowledge this reality.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who are leading complex systems?

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “How can I manage complex systems more effectively?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you better understand complex systems. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

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