The goal of this paper is to describe a mind set for those in leadership roles that is needed to succeed in today’s increasingly complex and fast-changing business environments. Over the course of several action research projects in Sweden over the last few years, my colleagues and I have identified what we believe is a distinct mode of thinking, communicating and interacting with others. The Greek word for “flow” is rheo, so I call it: Rheo Leadership. The concept of Rheo Leadership aims to clarify for practitioners how to lead effectively in modern organizations. Successful managers understand and make use of two kinds of structures: those consciously formulated by managers and those that are tacit and emergent within the workgroup. Each of these influences the same three sub-categories of activities: acting, thinking and relating. Within the social context, leaders influence outcomes by thoughtfully and skillfully using three dualities that are inherent within human interaction dynamics: the value creating and discovering activities, the convergent divergence of evolving patterns, and integrated autonomy of individual actors. Effective use of the opposing poles of these dualities to efficaciously channel forward momentum is called “rein control”. The final section describes field experiences from research as well as successful interventions with first line managers in what I call the rheo task for leaders.
This paper proposes an analytical framework for a complexity-informed theoretical approach to human interaction and organizations. In doing so, it addresses the increasing call for better theory supporting the microfoundations of social science. A key premise of the argument is that the primary imperatives of social actors are confronting uncertainty and adapting to change as a collective. As such, in addition to seeking requisite resources, human beings interact to gather and use information for their individual and collective benefit. The paper explores this perspective by proposing a complex systems model of organizing that differs from systems theory by placing the actors inside the system rather than assuming they act on the system. We propose a definition of information that enables us to explore the dynamics of human interaction as observers from the outside without necessarily knowing what the information means. This approach is analogous to how physical and biological systems are studied and is intended to complement, rather than replace existing approaches that tend to place their emphasis on inter-subjectivity and meaning-making rather than on the objective measurement of information as a physically measurable quantity.