Latest event organised by the Bristol Leadership Centre in partnership with The Leadership Trust Foundation

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Bristol Leadership Centre and The Leadership Trust Foundation Research Seminar with Professor Dennis Tourish on “Complexity leadership theory: A processual, communication critique, and suggested modifications.”

Wednesday 5 November 2014

2.30pm to 4.00pm



Most Complexity theories stress the non-linear nature of organisational relationships. They therefore problematize attempts to identify clear causal relationships between organisational phenomena.

Consistent with this, complexity leadership theories explore how leaders can enable complexity to facilitate more innovative and creative organisational outcomes. However, Tourish will suggest that these perspectives tend to depict leaders and their actions as standing apart from the complex organisational processes that the theories describe, and assume that leaders can exercise rational, extensive and purposeful influence on them to a far greater extent than is possible.

In contrast, Tourish will argue that leadership is best thought of as an ongoing communicative process that is an integral part of complexity dynamics within organisations. The role of the individual leader is thus a social construction produced by the often conflicted communicative interactions of multiple organisational actors.

Moreover, what is deemed effective behaviour by such  individuals is a momentary accomplishment that can never be separated from multiple temporal, social and organisational contexts. Tourish will challenge ongoing tendencies towards essentialism in leadership studies, and explore how processual, communication perspectives enrich our understanding of complex leadership dynamics.


Professor Dennis Tourish is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is a Fellow of the Leadership Trust Foundation, a Fellow of Lancaster Leadership Centre and co-editor (with Brad Jackson) of the journal Leadership.

His most recent book is ‘The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective’, published by Routledge in 2013. Although this book remains unavailable in all good bookshops, it has been favourably reviewed, and should be a best seller by 2050.

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