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Strategy in the era of “swans”: the role of strategic leadership under uncertainty and unpredictability

Henry Adobor (Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Quinnipiac University School of Business, Hamden, Connecticut, USA)
William Phanuel Kofi Darbi (Business School, Ghana Institute of Mangement and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana)
Obi Berko O. Damoah (Department of Organizations and Human Resources, University of Ghana Business School, Accra, Ghana)

Journal of Strategy and Management

ISSN: 1755-425X

Article publication date: 28 July 2021




The purpose of this conceptual paper is to explore the role of strategic leadership under conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability. The authors argue that highly improbable, but high-impact events require the upper echelons of management, traditionally the custodians of strategy formulation to offer a new kind of strategic leadership focused on new mindsets, organizational capabilities, more in tune with high uncertainty and unpredictability.


Drawing on strategic leadership, and complexity leadership theory, the authors review the literature and present a conceptual framework for exploring the nature of strategic leadership under uncertainty. The authors conceptualize organizations as complex adaptive systems and discuss the imperatives for developing new mental models for emergent leadership.


Strategic leaders have a key role to play in preparing their organizations for episodic disruptions. These include developing their adaptive capabilities and building resilient organizations to ensure their organizations cannot only bounce back after a disruption but have the capacity for transformation to new fitness levels when necessary. Strategic leaders must engage with complexity leadership by seeing their organizations as complex adaptive systems, reconfigure their leadership approaches and organizations to build strategic adaptive capability.

Research limitations/implications

This is a conceptual paper and the authors cannot make any claims of causality.

Practical implications

Organizational leaders need to reconfigure their mental models and leadership approaches to reflect the new normal of uncertainty and unpredictability. Developing the strategic adaptive capability of organizations should prepare them for dealing with high impact events. To assure business continuity in the face of disruptions requires building flexible, adaptable business models.


The paper focuses on how managers can offer strategic leadership for a new normal that challenges some of our most cherished leadership and strategic management paradigms. The authors explore the new mental models and leadership models in an era of great uncertainty.



Adobor, H., Darbi, W.P.K. and Damoah, O.B.O. (2021), "Strategy in the era of “swans”: the role of strategic leadership under uncertainty and unpredictability", Journal of Strategy and Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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