How leaders manage complexity

November 9, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

A recent Australian study explains why some managers succeed while others fail in challenging, ambiguous and complex roles.

Michael Collins, a PhD student at the Australian School of Business, designed a unique procedure that tests the mental and emotional demands of high-pressure roles.  Over 700 managers and employees from a number of Australian companies were involved in this study.

The results suggest those managers with high cognitive ability and who react less emotionally to complex problems are less likely to make rash, ill-considered decisions.  The study also found that such managers were more transformational, less abusive and significantly more effective in their role than those reacting more impulsively and emotionally under pressure.

This new testing procedure was found to be more accurate in both predicting impulsive behaviour and destructive emotions than traditional personality tests.  Traditional tests explained leadership success in less complex, predictable tasks but failed to do the same in more complex challenging ones.

These findings have important implications when selecting managers for more complex and challenging roles.  It suggests that impulsivity and emotional reactivity under pressure might explain executive failure in such roles.  In addition, it shows that traditional personality tests fail to identify these two important factors that, in combination, explain at least 50 percent of leader effectiveness under pressure.

Michael will be presenting the findings of this study at the 11th Australian Conference for Personality and Individual Differences (ACPID) on the 30th of November 2012 at the University of Melbourne.  To learn more about this research and how it can help you select the right leaders for more complex and challenging roles please contact Michael directly on

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