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Leading complex change with post‐conventional consciousness

Barrett C. Brown (Human and Organizational Systems, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California, USA)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 29 June 2012




This paper aims to document how leaders with a highly‐developed meaning‐making system design and engage in sustainability initiatives.


In total, 32 leaders and change agents were assessed for their meaning‐making system, or action logic, using a variation of the Washington University Sentence Completion Test; 13 were identified as holding the three rarest and most complex action logics able to be measured. Semi‐structured, in‐depth interviews explored their behavior and actions as related to complex change initiatives.


These leaders appear to: design from a deep inner foundation, including grounding their work in transpersonal meaning; access non‐rational ways of knowing, and use systems, complexity, and integral theories; and adaptively manage through “dialogue” with the system, three distinct roles, and developmental practices. Fifteen leadership competencies and developmental stage distinctions for three dimensions of leadership were identified.

Research limitations/implications

The sample size leads to the findings being propositions that require further validation before broader generalization.

Practical implications

The results provide the most granular view to date of how individuals with highly complex meaning‐making may think and behave with respect to complex change, offering potential insight into the future of leadership.

Social implications

The study explores how to cultivate leadership with the capacity to address complex social, economic, and environmental challenges.


The paper documents 15 competencies that are largely new to the leadership literature, and that reflect the actions of leaders operating with highly sophisticated meaning‐making systems.



Brown, B.C. (2012), "Leading complex change with post‐conventional consciousness", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 560-575.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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