Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

Complexity, Adaptive Leadership, Phase Transitions, and New Emergent Order: A Case Study of the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church

Bryan D. Sims
April 2009

Much has been made of the importance of leadership in recent decades, yet much is still to be learned. The focus in leadership studies is primarily on leader roles, attitudes, and behaviors. While useful, much of leadership research has not addressed the adaptive challenges faced by many organizations. This study describes complexity leadership theory and specifically focuses attention on phase transitions and new emergent order. Complexity leadership theory defines leadership as a complex dynamic process that emerges in the interactions of agents and describes three entangled roles that serve to enable the adaptive function in organizations. This study made use of the research on adaptive leadership and complexity leadership theory to ascertain how phase transitions and new emergent order occur within an organization by gathering rich, thick descriptions from participants within an organization. As such, it used a qualitative methodology focusing on participant interviews as a primary data source. The Northwest Texas (NWTX) Conference of the United Methodist Church proved to be a good context to study this as it exhibited the characteristics of a complex adaptive system. The complexity conditions of adaptive tension and far-from-equilibrium state produced nonlinear interactions throughout the conference that accumulated to the point of emergent self-organization. The work of Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI) and the environment and process of the Leadership Incubator served as catalysts for adaptive leadership in the conference. The interactions that occurred within that environment produced interdependence among leaders and groups within the conference. Enabling leadership was modeled and multiplied throughout the conference. In addition, many administrative leaders experienced deep change and shifted from a paradigm of technical leadership and control to adaptive leadership and empowerment. The role these administrative leaders played in enabling and promoting adaptive leadership that prompted phase transition may have been the most unexpected discovery in this study. Finally, the renewed spiritual emphasis as part of the Leadership Incubator environment and process was clearly a key component of what brought greater interaction and interdependence among leaders and groups in the conference and served to further prompt the phase transition into new emergent order.