Leadership in an Age of Uncertainty

Topics: Leadership, MIT Sloan School of Management, Peter Senge Pages: 20 (4701 words) Published: April 3, 2013
The second aspect of the change signature is the way an individual typically embodies the four capabilities and the characteristic way in which that person makes change happen. For example, what are the skills, abilities, tactics and modes of operating that characterize how you carry out your leadership activities? Some people might carry out sensemaking in a very interpersonal manner, moving from office to office learning

from everyone they meet. For others it might be a purely
analytic process that starts and ends on the computer. Leaders learn through experiences what is most important to them
and how they can be most effective with others. This process is facilitated when leaders take the time to reflect on their experiences. Often people report that they learn more from
failure than success, but all experience can help shed light on what kind of leader you are.

1. Senge, P. 1996. “Leading Learning Organizations: The Bold, the Powerful, and the Invisible.” In F. Hesselbein, et al., The Leader of the Future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

MIT Leadership Center

2. Weick, K. 1995. Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
3. Sutcliffe, K., and K. Weick. 2002. “Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity.” European Management Journal, 20, pp. 709-710.

Leadership in an
Age of Uncertainty

4. Argyris, C. and Schön, D. 1996. Organizational learning II: Theory, method and practice. Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.
5. Senge, P., 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.
6. Pfeffer, J. 1992. Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
7. Kouzes, J. and B. Posner. 1993. Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Leadership is not solely the
responsibility of the CEO, but can
and should permeate all levels of

Leadership, as presented here, is a combination of four
capabilities and a change signature. It is distributed across individuals, and involves sensemaking, relating, visioning and inventing. By engaging in these activities over time leaders begin to develop their own distinct way of making things

happen. Through a variety of experiences leaders can further develop their capabilities, build leadership capacity in an
organization, and create a better understanding of their
own values and skills.

the organization.


by Deborah Ancona
Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management Faculty Director of the MIT Leadership Center

The Romans wondered whether force or inspiration was more effective as a motivator. Our own culture glorifies the charismatic while preaching participation. Interest in this question has only intensified as we watch a new world order unfold in the aftermath of September 11th, and as we are bombarded with images of corporate corruption and attempts at reform. We all hunger to know what leadership is, yet the concept remains amorphous.

The histor y of leadership theor y started with an emphasis on traits—the notion that it is the make-up of the leader that makes all the difference. This approach dominated research up to the late 1940’s. Current research suggests that our admired leaders today are honest, inspiring, self-confident, and adaptive. But traits do not always predict leadership effectiveness, and so researchers have shifted to look at the behavior or style of the leader.

Every leader has his or her distinct

unique pattern is called a “change

This research brief seeks to provide a framework that allows us to integrate prior leadership theories, while focusing on what leaders actually do. It is a framework that views leadership as a capacity that both individuals and groups possess. The framework—developed by four MIT Sloan faculty members, Deborah Ancona, Wanda Orlikowski, Peter...
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