Richard H.G. Field's Approach

Field (2002) also believes that two organizational theories can be used to understand the differences between leadership and management;

  • Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (Anderson, 1999), and
  • Closed System Theory (Cummings, 1980).
Complex Adaptive Systems theory describes organizations in the following ways.
1. disequilibrium is the norm
2. attractors drive the process, which may appear chaotic but is not random
3. complex processes are affected by small changes
4. complex systems resist reductionism
5. patterns are emergent from simple rules
6. systems exhibit self-organizing characteristics






Leaders are attractors, the points the system organizes around. Their actions may appear chaotic or even non-rational, but are not. There can be several or many leaders in an organization. Leaders set up the system, inject energy into it, set the boundaries. Rules of leadership are simple. Complex organizational systems emerge from those rules. One example is Southwest Airlines and the rules created by their CEO Herb Kelleher (Gittell, 2001; Wong, 2000). These are that it should be fun to work, their business is customer satisfaction, and mistakes are system errors not individual ones (cited in Field, 2002).

Field (2002) believes that management is best explained by closed systems theory. According to it stability and equilibrium are valued. The organization looks within itself and seeks to operate as efficiently as possible. The outside environment is ignored.

He notes that therefore have good reason to believe that leadership is different from management. Leadership is related to complexity and management to simplicity (Field, 2002).

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Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009