The New Leadership Skills for Complexity

If Business Schools are churning out people with the skills that are not adequate for today’s complex world, how do we prepare people to work with complexity? It’s not enough to berate the fact that Business Education is lagging behind. We need to find a valid replacement. What kind of education will serve people to work in an organization that is different from a traditional hierarchy? What are the leadership skills they need practically, intellectually and emotionally? One thing is for sure: it will be very different from the training that managers currently receive in most MBAs.

In our post ‘Why Business Education Is Failing’ we illustrated a curriculum and in this post we outline a path to educating and training leaders and managers who can think and act systemically to continuously improve the performance of their organizations. This means long-term, win-win thinking that benefits all stakeholders and not short-term, quarter-based, shareholder-only value.

Getting the basics

In order to grasp the mindset to manage an organization systemically and focus people’s talent and abilities on achieving the goal of the organization, a basic set of concepts need to be covered:

  • Introduction to systems thinking for business
  • Measuring & managing in an interconnected world (variation and throughput)
  • Making decisions based on seeing the whole picture (variation and constraints)
  • Creating a platform for change: Intelligent Management, Intelligent Emotions

Once this introduction to the basic concepts of managing systemically has been made, people are ready to learn the basic systemic management skills drawn from the Theory of Constraints. This entails an introduction to the Thinking Process Tools:

  • Conflict resolution (Conflict Cloud)
  • Handling negative implications stemming from proposed solutions — Negative Branch Reservation (NBR)
  • Project planning — Prerequisite Tree (PRT)
  • How to give detailed comprehensive and clear instructions — Transition Tree (TRT)

The Next Level

Once managers have a grasp of how they can manage systemically on a day-to-day basis, they are ready to become familiar with the Thinking Process Tools on a deeper level. In this way they equip themselves with skills and tools to build and support the organization systemically in the short, medium and long-term.

  • How to build a strategic plan: Future Reality Tree (FRT)
  • Identifying the business opportunity (Core Conflict)
  • Win-win negotiations the systems-thinking way
  • Defining a proficient solution and its long-term implication: Future Reality Tree (FRT)
  • Developing a marketing & sales plan — External Constraint
  • Putting it all together: Scheduling the execution of the project — Critical Chain


A leader or manager educated in this way will be capable of delivering measurable benefits to any organization. These include:

  • Increased clarity on what is blocking an enterprise
  • Improved teamwork
  • Clarity on the implications of actions and decisions
  • Better understanding of the systemic nature of work
  • Increased ability to focus

These benefits will lead to significant economic gains in terms of:

  • Increased sales
  • Increased cash

Practicing systemic management, as opposed to the divisive and competitive 1980s style of leadership, is not only productive and profitable, it can be highly satisfying. It is more akin to being the conductor of an orchestra as opposed to an alpha dog. A mindset of continuous improvement, innovation and growth creates Quality in what is produced. This in turn leads to higher involvement of staff in meaningful work and easier flow of work and throughput. Why should we settle for less?

Sign up to our blog here and shift your thinking towards broader, systemic possibilities for yourself and your organization.

About the Author

Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.

Originally published at on February 21, 2017.