A Leadership Theory for the Social Order of Today

The Industrial Age shifted the world in so many ways and created a new social era for mankind. From a Progress Theory perspective, the assumption is that the Industrial Age moved mankind into a better existence (Bishop & Hines, 2012). However, it is possible for a strong argument to be made that the leadership style evolved in the Industrial Age may have not been a change of progress at all. The leadership that emerged during this time was largely based on control and the centralization of power (Northouse, 2013) by impressing the will of the leader and induce obedience, respect, loyalty, and cooperation (Moore, 1927). What has been shown repeatedly is that these top-down leadership structures built on bureaucracy paradigms are not the most effective choice in most cases; in fact, it is mostly effective in physical production, but proving ineffective in a knowledge-oriented economy (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). Unfortunately, it has served as the foundation of many leadership approaches for the better part of a century and is increasingly ineffective in the Information Age (Northouse, 2013).

In contrast, the Information Age is ushering a new approach to leadership that may prove to be more effective.  As the economy increasingly leans toward information and knowledge, complexity science is suggesting a new paradigm in leadership: Complexity Leadership Theory (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). This is a leadership theory that is more reflective of the social order of today. Hierarchical approaches to leadership are being met with increasing disdain because they offend the individual’s sense of importance. Complexity Leadership Theory does the exact opposite and creates a place at the table for everyone involved regardless of placement on the organizational chart by enabling the learning, creative, and adaptive capacity of those involved (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007).

Which style does your leadership look most like?


Bishop, P., & Hines, A. (2012). Social change. In Teaching about the future. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moore, B. V. (1927). The May conference on leadership. Personnel Journal, (iss. 6), 124–128.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 298–318. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.04.002

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