• Karen Mølbæk
4. term, Master of Learning Processes (Continuing education) (Continuing Education Programme (Master))
Aim/research question
The aim of this master’s thesis is to explore ways of navigating as a leader in a world of growing complexity. Using Stacey & Mowles’ theory of complex responsive processes as my starting point, I ask the following research question: “How can the theory of complex responsive processes contribute to the development of navigation for leading in complexity, and what navigation points will arise from this investigation?”

To explore the question in mind, I have facilitated a development process for a group of seven directors in BILKA. Due to my pragmatist approach in research, I have initiated an action research process during which participants have been reflecting on both oral and written narratives articulating their daily practice. My role as researcher has been to identify breakdown-of-understandings nuancing the theory of complex responsive processes by Stacey & Mowles, and also to facilitate leadership development through reflexive conversations among participants.

Throughout the process, three findings have occurred. First, participants have found it helpful articulating dilemmas as paradoxes using the paradox term as a lens to identify navigation points. Second, the process has uncovered the importance of psychological safety among team members for practicing reflexive conversations successfully. Third, the presence of psychological safety appears to enable feedback and tolerance of failure among a group of directors exploring navigation points for leading in complexity.

Implications for practice
As the participants have benefitted from engaging in reflexive conversations with each other throughout the project, the process has had implications for their future leadership practice. The management team has now experienced a complexity theory-informed way of dealing with daily challenges, just as they feel more confident in reaching out for feedback from colleagues.

In addition, the action research process has implications for the author’s practice as a management consultant. The master’s thesis addresses a question of how one might practice leadership development in the form of action research. Due to theory by Dewey, this thesis argues, that learning outcome is enhanced, when managers engage in reflexive conversations on their prevailing leadership practice. This is the case, because by reflecting on experiences, knowledge arise on-the-job, just as this practice enables the transference of knowledge from one context to another. I accordance with theory by Dewey, action research creates knowledge from practice in order to be knowledge for practice. Likewise, participants contribute to knowledge creation by collectively engaging in reflexive conversations.

Implications for research
The above findings add nuances to the theory of complex responsive processes by Stacey & Mowles. They point toward the importance of psychological safety for engaging in reflexive conversations. Furthermore, the project findings underline the paradox as a tool for opening up conversations. Findings are confirmed by research by Lotte Lüscher as well as Amy Edmondson.
SpecialisationLeadership and Organizational Psychology (LOOP)
Publication date5 Jan 2023
Number of pages45
ID: 506098532