If you want to know what theories and thinkers influence the transform. approach, this page is for you!


You will find an alphabetical list (not exhaustive) of thought influences undergiring our work.


Each section contains a brief summary and a few related "good reads" if you want to know more.  

adaptive leadership

   Ron Heifetz, psychiatrist, author and faculty member at Harvard School of Public Policy is the thought leader behind adaptive leadership. Adaptive leadership is leadership that addresses problems or what Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges.” Not all problems are adaptive challenges. There are problems that are more routine and technical in nature that differ from adaptive challenges in terms of complexity, intensity and length of impact.

   Adaptive leadership then, is a process of helping people to see their adaptive challenges, define them for themselves, engage in finding solutions and then making changes. In this framework, leadership occurs with or without formal authority, with or without followers, and at all levels of the organization. It is often overlooked because most people confuse leadership with authority, titles and/or technical expertise. Heifetz cites the tendency to look for leadership only at the executive level of an organization and then lament the “absence of leadership.”

   The leadership of an organization can be found at multiple levels and he suggests that the best way to identify the prevailing leadership in an organization is to look, or at least not overlook, any individual who is courageously asking tough questions, mobilizing others, facing reality and trying to solve hard problems that require change at some level or several levels of the organization. A proponent of developing leadership at all levels of an organization, Heifetz recommends growing more leaders to face our adaptive challenges rather than creating systems with dependent followers.


Recommended Reads

Heifetz. R. A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Heifetz, R.A., Grashow, A. & Linksy, M (2009) The practice of adaptive leadership: tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

authentic leadership

   The premise of authentic leadership is that authentic people are at the center. Authentic leaders concentrate the development of individuals, both followers and leaders, to be resilient, transparent, ethical and future-oriented.

  Authentic leaders see themselves accurately and make sound personal choices because they are “unencumbered” by the expectations of others (Avolio & Gardner).

   Authentic leaders are “real” and do not conceal their mistakes or their deficits.  Authentic leaders are transparent about their intentions, values and priorities and do not hide their position on an issue waiting for the popular opinion to emerge. They don’t jump on trendy bandwagons. Aware of their own blind spots and personal limitations, they are open to feedback as well as questioning from peers and followers.

   Authentic leaders are mission-driven, focused on organizational outcomes rather than self-interest, the accumulation of personal power, money and strokes for his or her ego. They develop the capacity to lead with mind and heart, so that they can speak clearly on critical matters without cruelty.

   Finally, authentic leadership focuses on the long term value, not short term wins. In day to day practice, this means investing time, energy and dollars into the development of all individuals, including themselves, which yields long term strength, productivity and impact.

   Authentic leadership draws from scholarship in the fields of positive psychology, transformational leadership (see entry) and moral and ethical leadership.


Recommended Reads

Avoilo, B.J. & Gardner, W.L. (2005). Authentic Leadership Development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. Leadership Quarterly 16, 315-388. 

George, W.W. (2003) Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to lasting value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Walumbwa, F.O., Avolio, B.J., Gardner, W.L., Wernsing, T.S. & Peterson, S.J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34, 89-126.

chaos theory

   Chaos theory is the most significant scientific idea of the 20th century and has revolutionized our thinking in all disciplines – from the physical sciences and math (where it originated) to the fields of management and leadership.

Chaos theory is exciting because it opens up the possibility of simplifying complicated phenomena”; it is troubling in its challenge to traditional model-building; it is fascinating in its integration of math, science, and technology. “But above all, chaos is beautiful” (Ian Stewart, 1989).

   Exciting, troubling, fascinating, beautiful…and the assertion that “the world is at once easier and yet more difficult to understand than we thought” (TJ Cartwright). We thought the world was like Newton’s model – predictable, controllable like a machine. Reality, however is that chaos is the organizing building block of the universe. It’s not Newton’s world. Our universe is fundamentally a nonlinear, quantum world, unpredictable and constantly in flux.

   The implications for leadership  theory and practice are profound. Cartwright’s (1991) article on the implications of chaos theory on urban planning applies to leadership. He contends that “chaos may make the world easier to understand, not more difficult” and that it is more appropriate to develop simple models or solutions to complex problems. This seems contradictory, that a complex problem or organization should demand a complex solution/plan. However, Cartwright persuasively argues that complicated models are still imprecise, don’t fit with reality (which is dynamic) and are hard to understand which means no one will use them. Simpler plans can also be abandoned if and when they are no longer useful.

   Consider the investment of time, money, and energy spent on dense, complex, strategic plans that sit on the shelf, outgrow their relevance before their projected time (5 -10 years) and Cartwright’s words ring true. If strategic plans are taken off the shelf and used, they are unlikely to be challenged or abandoned because of the investment, even if conditions change and the plans no longer apply.

  Cartwright also advises rethinking our deeply-rooted beliefs in order and predictability in light of the potential value of accepting the “new” reality of a world of disorder and chaos. If chaos is a more accurate picture of the world and our systems within the world, then accepting that and working within that framework ought to be less frustrating and more productive. Cartwright builds a case for the idea that humans may need chaos in their collective psyche to survive as finite beings in an infinite world.

   The most important and possibly the most practical implication is the idea that system predictability is only local and incremental, not global or comprehensive. This is incredibly powerful applied to planning and change. The scope of an intervention ought to be as local as possible, narrower and focused on incremental steps, staying open to the need to adapt or make adaptations to the model, rather than following a blueprint step by step without question.

Theory & Implications

Chaos: Order without predictability (not total disorder, not external force swirling us into anarchy). Chaos has an invisible order. Not every aspect of world is chaotic, but many systems are. A few examples are weather, water (river currents), stock market, population). These systems are not subject to precise rules, nor are they predictable. They are shaped by environmental feedback and display discernible patterns but they are complex and cannot be controlled. Chaotic systems are inherently unpredictable and will never be completely understood.

   Implication #1:  Seek multiple partial solutions (Kelly, 1994) or develop an “ensemble of forecasts” (Cartwright, 1991) to organizational problems. Don’t waste time and energy on the myth of one best approach or solution. Single causes are rare, the only relevant approach is to develop multiple, partial solutions or forecasts that are easily adapted to changes or can be abandoned in order to follow the better path.

   Implication #2:  Place less emphasis on total control and total understanding because it will always be imprecise; spend energy and effort on observing, uncovering hidden patterns, adjusting expectations and adapting to change. This kind of thinking and communication requires the capacity to engage in Double Loop Learning (see entry).

Quantum world: We live in a world of wholes not disparate parts, nothing exists in isolation, energy and matter interact in fields, invisibly yet powerfully creating new energy or synergy – an outcome is greater than the sum of it parts -- 1 + 1 = more than 3, it can equal 100, depending on the level, type, intensity and amount of interactions between objects over time.

   Implication: In order to understand the situation and its challenges (organizational, community, group level) study relationships among parts (people, tasks, context, other groups, organization) and design interventions that increase connections and therefore create synergy … more energy than a single entity can generate.

Strange Attractor (s): In a world that is dynamic and turbulent, organizations and systems operate in and around a “strange attractor”; the essence of this concept in an organization is the fundamental purpose and its core values. The strange attractor defines the “orbit” of behaviors within a system. The strange attractor is the magnetic force that draws people to the system and holds them there.

   Implication: If the core purpose of the organization is different from the mission statement crafted for a strategic plan or marketing campaign, it will be revealed over time. The real purpose (the Strange Attractor) is revealed in patterns of behavior and practices. It is what the organization returns to over time. The importance of understanding the purpose cannot be underestimated. People come and go in response to the pull of the purpose on their lives. People may leave if the stated purpose is not the same as the actual or experienced purpose.

Self-organizing systems:  Fill the chaotic world. Groups of living things form in response to the dynamic impact of the environment and actions of other living things. Groups constantly organize themselves. We cannot predict nor control how groups will organize because self-organizing systems are governed by the principle of strange attractors – magnetic pull.

   Implication: Encourage self-organizing teams. Leaders should observe and look for self-organizing systems, find ways to equip, empower and encourage them to work in concert (alignment) with the core values and purpose, which is the primary Strange Attractor. Leaders need to be aware of cliques that operate outside the mission and pay attention to impact of influences (or “force fields” beyond the CEO or executive leadership) that shape individuals and teams, such as company reputation, market fluctuations, environment, peers etc.

Sensitivity to Initial Conditions or “butterfly effect”:  Initial conditions guide and hold the system together through time and multiple feedback loops. Pay attention to beginnings because they determine ends. The slightest movement by one object within the system can alter the course of the whole system. A profound distance can develop between objects that were initially close due to the amplification of feedback loops over time. Edward Lorenz suggested that the movement of a butterfly’s wings in Tokyo could affect weather in New York two months later.

   Implication: Leaders should give ample time and effort to beginnings and “firsts” like launches, new relationships, first meetings, new employee training, product introductions, groundbreaking, and attend to small details for great impact. In addition, they should observe relationships and factors that create distance over time as well as watch for mission drift between members or teams and the purpose of the organization.

Force Fields: Invisible fields that influence system and self-organizing processes. How information is disseminated throughout the system.

   Implication: Leaders need to develop awareness of the impact of sounds, sights, even smells of the environment, what and how information is communicated.

-What does the signage, furniture, color, lighting, space reflect about the mission/purpose?

-What do the organizational structure, hiring practices, staff training, policies and procedures communicate to the whole?

Feedback Loops: Information looping back to the system from the environment enabling system to adapt and survive in response to new information/turbulent conditions. A system evaluates level of adaptation and change and seeks to maintain dynamic equilibrium.

   Implication: Leaders need to acknowledge the critical role of openness to feedback from stakeholders, markets, peer organizations, consultants external to the organization as well as creating feedback loops, specific channels for individuals and teams to provide feedback to top management; creating feedback loops between teams; creating a “holding environment” for the organization when there is tension while new information and approaches are considered in the context of the ultimate mission.


Recommended Reads

Burns, J.S. (2002). Chaos theory and leadership studies: Exploring unchartered seas. Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies, 9(2),42-56.

Cartwright, T.J. (1991). Planning and chaos theory. Journal of the American Planning Association, 57 (1), 44-56.

Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a new science. New York: Viking.

Lorenz, E. (1963). Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, 20(2), 130-41.

Wheatley, M.J. (1999) Leadership and the new science. (2nd edition). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

change theory

   In the 1950s Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, developed the classic model for understanding the change process. His influence upon numerous case studies and theoretical discussions about change is well-documented in the Organizational Development literature.

   The starting point is the idea that all humans and human systems seek equilibrium and autonomy; and consequently, resistance to change is the expected, normal response. Change is a period of instability and begins with “unfreezing.” Before change occurs, a system must experience a significant level of disequilibrium or discomfort. The level of discrepancy, or the difference between the current state and a desired state, drives readiness (Armenakis). The discrepancy motivates the system to look at the problem and solve it. Efforts to reduce resistance to change include education and if necessary, force.

   In the second phase, a system undergoes cognitive restructuring that will pave the way for behavioral change. This phase may include training in new behaviors, altering reporting relationships and reward systems, as well as introducing a new management structure or style.

   “Refreezing,” the third phase of change, involves reinforcing new behaviors and new thinking, institutionalizing new policies and processes to support the change that yields a new equilibrium, or “new normal.”

   During change it is normal to experience a period of disorganization and lowered effectiveness during which courageous and committed leadership is required to offset anger, uncertainty and fear (Goodstein and Burke).


Steps for Leading Change.

   Harvard professor John Kotter studied over 100 organizations attempting to transform themselves into significantly better competitors. Two key themes emerged about change: One, change takes a considerable amount of time and the organization goes through a series of phases. When organizations try to speed up the process by skipping steps they fail. Two, critical mistakes in any of the phases derail the change effort, or at best, dampen the momentum. Very capable people make at least one big mistake. When organizations do transform themselves and their culture successfully, they follow an eight step process in sequence and do not rush the process.

   Establishing a sense of urgency

   Forming a powerful guiding coalition

   Creating a vision

   Communicating the vision

   Empowering others to act on the vision

   Planning for and creating short-term wins

   Consolidating improvements & producing more change

   Institutionalizing new approaches


Recommended Reads

Armenakis, A.A. & Bedeian, A.G. (1999) Organizational change: A review of theory and research in the 1990s. Journal of Management, 25(3), 293-295.

Armenakis, A.A., Harris, S.G., & Mossholder, K.W. (1993). Creating readiness of organizational change. Human Relations, 46(6), 681-704.

Kotter, J.P. (1995, Mar./Apr.). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 60-7.

Lewin, K.P. (1947) Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human Relations, 1, 5-41.

dialogic leadership

   Dialogic leadership is an approach to leadership that builds on the belief in the power of collective thought and civil discourse.

   Leadership happens to the extent that a group is equipped and willing to explore difficult issues from many points of view. Leadership requires the capacity to suspend assumptions, to communicate freely and the will to think beyond one’s particular perspective.

   Leaders and followers become critical observers of their own thinking. Thinking is active and group members learn to take a creative, less reactive stance toward their peers whose perspectives may be conflict with their own.

   The connection between dialogue and leadership (thus dialogic leadership)is this – leadership is about change (as opposed to management which is about maintenance/status quo) and therefore is going to involve resistance and learning new ways of being in the organization, both of which will create conflict. Dialogue is the most effective form of communication when the context is conflicted and the goal is learning how to stay to together as an organization, yet in new more effective ways.

   Dialogue is more engaged and focused style of communication than discussion. It is also not as aggressive and/or divisive as debate. Dialogue is “essential to learning how to think” and yields a “real meeting” between individuals (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1999). In order for dialogue to begin, there must be humility (openness) among the participants.

   Dialogue is a practical method for situations in which morals are in conflict and ethical action is required. Dialogue within an organizational context facilitates goal achievement and builds an ethical culture. Effective dialogue requires leadership, leadership that models humility, openness, consistently listens, asks good questions and is committed to a purpose greater than self-promotion or the exercise of power for power’s sake.


Recommended Reads

Bohm, D. (1980). On dialogue. New York: Routledge.

Eisenberg, E.M., & Goodall, H.L.,Jr. (1999). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. New York: St. Martin’s Press. (pp. 38-42).

Nielsen R.P. (1990). Dialogic leadership as ethics action (praxis) method. Journal of Business Ethics, 9,765-783.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.

Senge, P., Kleiner A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., & Smith, B. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.

double-loop learning

   Double-loop learning is an approach to organizational communication and problem-solving that leads to long-term organizational change.

   To understand double-loop learning, you need to understand single-loop learning or communication. Single-loop learning solves organizational problems by changing the strategy only, without looking at goals and values of the organization. It is a binary process, similar to adjusting a thermostat in response to the “problem” of being too warm or cold. Double-loop learning would question if the original setting was the “best” or “right” setting for the room and the people and the shared purposes for being in that room.

   Double-loop learning “doubles back” on the problems, asking why the problem exists in the first place. A double-loop approach uncovers values and assumptions that may be hindering organizational effectiveness. Although there are “single-loop” problems to solve in an organization, double-loop learning is for complex problems related to organizational structure, culture and governing values.

   Double-loop learning encourages upward communication from all levels of the organization as well as discussing the “undiscussable.” Double-loop learning nurtures personal responsibility for the organization, regardless of title or position. It rejects the standard practice of “blaming” management or only giving feeback so that an executive leader can “fix’ the problem.


Recommended Reads

Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming organizational defenses: Facilitating organizational learning. Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Argyris, C. (1994). Good communication that blocks learning. Harvard Business Review, 72(4), 77-86.

Argyris, C. & Schön, D.A. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading , MA: Addison Wesley.


   Mary Parker Follett (see entry) was the first to use the word followership and most likely coined it, 50 years before it is ever discussed in the leadership literature.

   Follett pioneered the idea of the active follower and redefined the leader-follower relationship as bi-directional. In her writing, consulting and lectures she sought to erase the “false dichotomy” between followers and leaders, proposing that leaders and followers share equally in the leadership process as partners, both following the real leader, the invisible real leader, the common purpose (aka Strange Attractor in Chaos Theory – see entry).

   Followers may function like a “leader” by taking on a more directive role if their particular knowledge or expertise fits the needs of the situation at hand. As partners, Follett argues that the followers’ influence is as significant to leadership as the one who bears the title of leader, and that followers actually grant power to the leader, sharing in the leadership movement (she calls “control”) of the organization. One key to unlocking followership energy is ensuring that followers have the freedom to actively contribute.

   Follett’s initial ideas on followers and followership are echoed in contemporary literature. Greenleaf (see entry for Servant Leadership) and Burns (see entry for Transformational Lleadership) were among the early voices in the 20th century paving the way for less leader-centric leadership theories, raising up the importance of followers and the fluidity of roles played by followers and leaders.

   Greenleaf promoted a “best test” that measures leadership according to the impact on those served and this metric – do followers turn into servant-leaders? Ironically, Joseph Rost’s core ideas about followers reflect those of Follet, with one ironic distinction – he states that there is no followership, only follwers and leaders engaging in leadership together. We think Follet would not disagree.

   Barbara Kellerman declared in 2008 that “the age of the follower has arrived.” We think Follett would breathe a sigh of relief. Hollander asserted that a complete understanding of leadership includes understanding its unity with followership. Kelley (2008) distinguished between effective followers and non-followers.

   We contend that followership is not the opposite of leadership, rather it is a process integral to and supportive of leadership carried out by followers or individuals who, at that point in time, have less visibility and less formal authority but are nonetheless critical to the success of the leadership effort.

   Non-followers are individuals who are dependent, prefer being told what to do, do not think for themselves, are often on the sidelines merely spectating and/or are “yes” people in the organization. Non-followers survive. Non-followers are not interested in the leadership or change effort, they are disconnected from the mission and they do not rise above self-interest.


Recommended Reads

Chaleff, I. (1995/2003). The courageous follower: Standing up to & for our leaders. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Follett, M.P. (1949). Freedom & co-ordination: Lectures in business organization. (L.Urwick Ed.). London: Management Publications Trust, Ltd.

Hollander, E.P. (1992).The essential interdependence of leadership and followership. American Psychological Society 1(2), 71-75.

Kelley, R.E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review, 66(6), 321-341.

Kellerman, B. (2008). Followership: How followers are creating change and changing leaders. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Riggio, R.E., Chaleff, I., & Lipman-Blumen, J. (Ed.s) (2008). The art of followership: How great followers create great leaders and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rost, J.C. (1991). Leadership for the twenty-first century. Westport, CT: Praeger. (pp. 107-109, 122).


   Robert Neilsen, a leadership and change scholar at Boston College refers to friendly-disentangling as a “dialogic approach” to leadership and change. This approach originated with John Woolman in the 18th century to address the moral dilemma of slave ownership and was incorporated in Servant Leadership and most recently tied to triple-loop learning (see entry) as a method of leading change.  At the core, friendly-disentangling is a learning process rooted in the assumption that most serious organizational problems are system “entanglements” and not the result of specific individuals.

   The beginning point is an awareness of “I am we” in contrast to “us vs. them.” “I” and “you” are a “we” and we are a part of the same system. We share the problem and we share the responsibility for resolving the problem. The awareness of “I am we” loosens and untangles the mind and heart so that people can listen to one another and allow the truth of the situation to surface.

   Applicable to wide variety of contexts, friendly-disentangling is a practical, ethical, and effective method of engaging all stakeholders in resolving conflict through a process of experimentation and action-learning. Friendly-disentangling generates effective integrative win-win solutions that lead to more permanent changes and long-term commitment to the new behaviors.


Recommended Reads

Greenleaf, R.K. (1970). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Neilsen, R. P. (1993). Woolman’s “I am we” triple-loop action learning: Origin and application in organization ethics. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 29(1), 117-138.

Neilsen, R.P. (1998). Quaker foundations for Greenleaf’s servant-leadership and “friendly disentangling” method in L.C. Spears (Ed.)., Insights on leadership (pp.126-144). New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Woolman, J. (1774/1818). The works of John Woolman in two parts (5th edition). ed. Benjamin & Thomas Kite, Philadelphia.


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