More Leah


In 2010, the USA Today highlighted a report that detailed the declining youth populations in the Northeast, which dropped by more than “1.2 million in the past decade, a decline that threatens the region’s economic stability and future growth” (El Nasser, 2010). Undergraduate-focused institutions across the Northeast are now starting to feel the effects of this decline. The large prospective market they once used to compete over is simply no longer there. 

Low enrollment can have an effect on an entire institution. Many medium-sized, higher education institutions are experiencing a time of upheaval due to financial challenges that are resulting in early retirements, resignations, and reorganization. This means that institutions are having to weigh the effects of baby boomers reaching retirement age and impatient millennials resigning due to a lack of professional prospects, simultaneously. It is as hard to hold on to the institutional history and culture that leaves retirees as it is hard to adapt to environmental challenges when the dissipating revenue doesn’t leave much left over for growth. 

An institution can never stop adapting, however. The state of stagnation only perpetuates its decline. Soon, staff begins to worry about cuts, faculty begin to openly gossip about poor leadership, and students grow concerned about the institution that currently has their financial dedication. Decline soon feels like complete and utter chaos as it spins out of control and the greater institutional network begins to take notice. How can institutions react to institutional turbulence while maintaining the ability to evolve with the times? 

Using complexity theory, I closely examine the complex adaptive system of my own workplace, an undergraduate-focused, Jesuit, Catholic, small-sized, higher education institution in the Northeast. Perturbation has begun to emerge due to low enrollment, a decline in financial gifts, retirements, and resignations. These environmental challenges have had a significant impact on the day-to-day services offered at the institution, which are felt by staff, faculty, students, prospective students, and the greater college network, including alumni. With a lack of resources, the system can no longer operate as it has in the past. Some structures may have to be reconfigured in order to run more efficiently and place less strain on external resources. Simultaneously, some roles should be better channeled in order to dedicate talent and resources to the survival of the system. This reconfiguration and re-classification may alter the traditional structure of the institution, but it would help to create a more resilient system from which to evolve. As a leadership theorist, I propose that the College take a modular approach in order to create this more resilient system.


Complexity theory allows us the opportunity to look at an organization as “a collection of interacting parts which, together, function as a whole” (Morrison, 2002, p. 7). Morrison (2002) studied school leadership using complexity theory and describes complexity as “the theory of survival, evolution, development, and adaptation” (p. 6). In order to adapt and survive, however, institutions need to see themselves as a collection of parts that affect one another and the greater institution. Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein (2010) concur and add that complexity theory actually “empowers individuals by demonstrating how they can alter a system, collectively making new things happen” (p. 4). They go on to say that it makes the difference of “why some organiza­tions are able to adapt and change and grow” and others fail (Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein, 2010, p. 4). In complexity theory, Morrison (2002) also says that no one component acts alone without repercussions on another (p. 9). Together, these components or “agents” interact in what is called a “complex adaptive system”, “with components at one level acting as the building blocks for components at another” (Morrison, 2002, p. 9). 

Most organizations, like my own, function as complex adaptive systems (CAS) with multiple hierarchies (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007, p. 299), clusters of agents with similar interests and goals, and organized behavior (Morrison, 2002, p. 9). Morrison (2002) points out that this organized behavior “emerges through self-organization of interacting elements and constant self-readjustment of the system” (p. 14). For the College, this means that agents must direct their attention to the change that confronts the institution. Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein (2010) point out that it is an organization’s “complexity and not [its] complicatedness that makes [it] adaptable” (p. 4). Every part of my organization is connected and we must no longer think in terms of silos. Wheatley (2006) encourages us to embrace this connectedness, “to see that a different order is moving the whole” (p. 42). Agents affect agents. Clusters affect clusters. Together they adapt and together they evolve. Dooley (1997) points out that, once evolved, the “state of the system is irreversible” (p. 83). Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey (2007) point out why that is, “history cannot be revisited (one cannot return a system to a previous state and rerun its trajectory)” (p. 302-303). 

Resilience is the term used to define how systems and institutions evolve or bounce back when they face environmental challenges, or “perturbations”.  In the case of the College, it is struggling to continue to rely heavily on undergraduate enrollment and financial gifts. Hamel & Valikangas (2003) describe resilience as “the ability to dynamically reinvent business models and strategies” when perturbations are revealed and to “adjust to changes that threaten their core earning power” (p. 2). They (2003) might recommend that the College look more closely at the rapid gains in online graduate education and the untapped markets of alumni and adults seeking professional development, for example. If an organization does not respond to the perturbations, it puts itself at risk. Zolli & Healy (2012) describe a state of “chaos” when perturbations are “amplified until the system is oscillating wildly out of control … like a car being oversteered on an icy patch” (p. 48). Once an organization reaches this patch of chaos, it is forced to make operational decisions that will impact its future and the current structure. My institution has hit such an icy patch. 

Resilience in organizations requires change. Wheatley (2006) suggests that “we let go of our old form and figure out how best to organize ourselves in new ways” (p. 24). As Dooley (1997) has mentioned, this organization never reverts back (p. 83) and it may also continue to evolve. Secondly, organizations must take the whole system into account. Zolli & Healy (2012) suggest that this process begins with “measurement tools that take the health of whole systems into account, not just their pieces” (p. 35). Lastly, honesty seems to be a crucial factor in resilience. Zolli & Healy (2012) suggest that resilience starts with “continuous, inclusive, and honest efforts to seek out fragilities, thresholds, and feedback loops of a system-grasping its holistic nature, identifying its potential sources of vulnerability, determining the directionality of its feedback loops, mapping its critical thresholds, and understanding, as best we can, the consequences of breaching them” (p. 260). As this paper will explore, this honesty can be achieved through dedicated efforts to improve communication and leadership.

The specific point in resilience I will be closely examining is adaptation. Adaptation must happen when chaos emerges. As I’ve mentioned, the system of the College can no longer operate as it has in the past. This adaptation occurs at the time of response. Morrison (2002) points out that “a school that is responsive to its environments may reorganize its activities” (p. 14). When change occurs, institutions must adapt. In the case of the College, it is still trying to compete in the same ways instead of adapting to the new currency of, what Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey (2007) describe as, the “Knowledge Era” (p. 298). When the economy is knowledge, it lies at the heart of what an organization, like my own, should be selling. I agree with them (2007) that it is time for “a whole new model” (p. 298). My organization can adapt to the trending environmental challenges of low undergraduate enrollment, the decline in financial gifts, retirements, and resignations by shifting the college’s focus to be on the current educational needs of new prospective markets of the Knowledge Era. I suggest that this can be achieved through modularization in two areas: restructuring programming so that it can quickly adapt to rapidly changing norms and re-classing activity to focus on boosting and stabilizing enrollment. 

Causal Perturbations

As mentioned previously, Wheatley (2006) suggests that we “figure out how best to organize ourselves in new ways” (p. 24). In order to figure out the best course of action, institutions have to look at the entire CAS and at what points perturbations are affecting agents. This system is composed of many agents that include current and prospective students, staff, faculty. 

Undergraduate enrollment, for example, is being impacted by the declining youth populations in the Northeast, yes, but also by the evolving culture of the student body. Up-and-coming generations are staying home longer, starting careers later, and switching careers more frequently. Yet, our programs reflect the learning lifestyle as finite, as if individuals are only purposed to receive two degrees and remain in the same position for the rest of their lives. This mentality also excludes other potential markets, such as that of alumni and adults, who want or need to pursue a career change or are simply interested in enrichment. 

The culture of staff and administration is also evolving. Where there are some employees who are content focusing on one concentrated area, many are yearning to develop and explore other areas of talent. Meanwhile, new generations of millennials and post-millennials are not the type to wait around for leadership opportunities– they are eager to find their purpose now. Finally, though valuable, most employees don’t want to spend all of their time maintaining problems that are always present– they want to help solve them. 

There are even disparities in the faculty body. As receptive faculty challenge the current systems of teaching and scholarship, they are oftentimes persecuted by more traditional-thinking faculty who believe that the university should remain the same and stay ‘on-ground’. In many cases, these traditional-thinking faculty members are the individuals who helped to develop the university at a time of previous prosperity. At one time, now traditional faculty was probably controversial, too, as they created trending programs and published thought-provoking articles on best teaching practices. Though I agree that there are many ideas that should remain the same in academia, the situation at my university calls for crucial attention. If we don’t adapt, we don’t survive. If we don’t survive, we will soon be talking about “what was” in a very different way. 

Finally, there is the new era in which we live. Access to knowledge is at our fingertips, literally. In order to satisfy our curiosity, we simply have to have a device that is connected to the Internet. From one device, we can choose how to learn, whether it be by ebook, video, podcast, or all of the above. We can choose when to absorb the content and if we need more time with the content, we simply rewind or read it over. On the same device, we can download an app, that tracks our progress, and music, to entertain us when we are working on a project. The accessibility of the Knowledge Era is already influencing informal learning and it should be doing the same for higher education. I am not arguing that we turn all of the formal learning over to machines. Actually, I am proposing the opposite. Higher education still has a significant role to play in providing a cultural base for society, structure to connect learning experiences, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. This role is not too far off from the mission of Harvard College when it was established by the Puritans in 1636, “to ensure a civilized society with knowledgeable leaders” (McCarthy, 2011, p. 11). It’s just that because society has changed, the way in which higher education serves society must also change.

Two Points of Concern

I will now examine two areas of the institution that are being affected by these perturbations: programming (specifically online) and staffing (specifically for online). The low-undergraduate enrollment and decline in financial gifts have put the institution at a standstill. As retirements and resignations continue to increase, the rest of the institution is trying to do more with less. We have lost support in many areas, including marketing, enrollment management, technology support, and retention. These four areas are the areas that matter the most in online education. The enrollment in our online programs continues to grow, bulgingly beyond what the institution is able to support. We are in a serious reactive mode.


There are two major concerns about online programming. The first is in regards to agility. Our footprint, though digital, is spread too wide. We have 13 online programs with one that is on the table to launch. It not only takes an enormously long time to assemble an online program, but the results are never certain. Each one of these programs generally reinvents the wheel each time they enter development, sometimes doing the same research or making the same errors. While in development, each program equally pulls on marketing, enrollment, technology support, and retention strings, no matter their enrollment or potential. Prospective online graduate students also currently feel like our programs are too rigid. Many of them are looking for more options, more combinations, and more ‘ad hoc’ offerings to pair with their degree. 

The second concern is in regards to support. Some of these programs are doing extremely well, boasting more enrollment than their on-ground counterparts. Others have the potential to grow if they had support. Yet, there are some that have not been able to gain momentum and perhaps should be discussed. Like the rest of the college, online program directors are oftentimes overtaxed. They take on marketing, hiring, compliance, and students, but there is no coordinated effort between all of the programs. Individually, they each ask for help, but there isn’t enough marketing, enrollment, technology support, or retention personnel to help, track, or coordinate all of the issues. 


There are also two challenges we face with staffing. The first challenge is the lack of challenge. Due to our financial challenges, the college has been unable to present opportunities for growth through our traditional channels. This makes it hard for employees who feel like they are stuck in a constant state of maintenance and repair. Employees need to feel challenged. 

The second challenge that we are facing is staff use. Roger Martin (2013) published an article in the Harvard Business Review about the mismanagement of the knowledge workforce. In it, he recommends that “full-time employees should be seen as nimble experts who can flow to projects where their capabilities are needed” (p. 5). In one regard, there is an underuse of the many talents that compose our staff at the College. Not everyone only has a background in the points that make up their job title’s definition. Some people are now working in a very different field than the one they started out in, while others are just multi-talented. At a time when we so greatly need combined talents to help meet one vision, we may want to consider alternative uses of the talent on campus. In this regard, there is also misuse of talent on campus.  Individuals are still operating in the same way in which they were operating when the college was in a stable state. It makes sense to rethink the way in which we are utilizing talent on campus if revenue and financial gifts are the two areas that can improve our stability. Once on the upswing, we may wish to contribute efforts to find other streams of revenue. 

Adaptation is Necessary

The College has two goals. The first is the unsaid goal, but the most obvious. It is simply to flourish. What I really mean by the word ‘flourish’ is the preservation of the institution as an educational provider. This includes financial stability and accreditation. The second goal is its mission, to foster “a commitment to excellence, service, and leadership in a global society”. Without meeting its first goal, however, it couldn’t possibly carry out its second. The first goal plays a large role in how the organization operates, especially in a crisis, which may sometimes set aside the second goal until stability is reached. These goals drive the purpose of the entire system. How does the institution balance the act of self-preservation while making sure it can still meet its mission?

Perturbation happens when things don’t work. 

Lipman-Blumen (1973) describes the word ‘crisis’ as “a threat to the wellbeing, sustenance, or survival of the system” (p. 105). The college is facing a crisis. Just as perturbations are affecting the traditional ways in which we have delivered programming and operated our campus, these two areas are also contributing to the increasing mix of perturbations because they are failing to adapt. Crisis has thrown us into chaos. Wheatley (2006) uses science to back up that this state of “chaos is necessary to new creative ordering” (p. 13).  She refers to it as “autopoiesis”, “life’s fundamental process for creating and renewing itself, for growth and change” (p. 20). We have an opportunity to respond to this chaos and create a more resilient system. Morrison (2002) says that “a school which does not meet local demands, that operates as an island of traditionalism, will die” (p. 16). Our resilience calls for some change and a possible shift away from some of our traditional structures. This state of chaos we are in leaves us with no other choice. We must adapt. 

Embrace the Chaos

When an organization like my own is in a state of chaos, it is hard to remain optimistic. This chaos, however, presents opportunities that may have not been present without it. We should embrace this chaos for it will open up new ways of thinking and approaching challenges. It gives us more insight into the big picture and it can allow an institution to project better. It will also teach us something new about our organization, which will help it to be more resilient in the long run (Wheatley, 2006, p. 6). This openness starts with finding our center (Wheatley, 2006, p. 154) in order to define our goals (Lipman-Blumen, 1973, p. 123). What must remain the same and in what ways must we change?

Becoming More Intelligent

This conversation cannot be had by four people or even by a large committee made up of individuals from across the entire network. This conversation must involve all agents. Lipman-Blumen (1973) suggests that “traditional problem-solving mechanisms” may no longer be adequate (p. 105). These mechanisms at the institution have traditionally been part of a top-down approach, allowing leaders at the top with only a birds-eye view to create strategies that solve problems. Unfortunately, the challenges the institution now faces involve retirements and resignations that have left the college with a lack of institutional knowledge. As Lipman-Blumen has suggested, a new approach may be needed to preserve the College’s history and generate ideas to help it overcome these emerging challenges. A collective conversation “develops a wiser sense of what is going on and what needs to be done” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 67) and increases our collective intelligence. Once information is being shared openly, everyone will gain a clearer sense of the entire picture. This information exchange will enliven the network (Wheatley, 2006, p. 96) and clarify our patterns, or culture (p. 128). In many ways, the culture must remain the same because it is what defines the collective. In the case of the College, we must reaffirm the many facets of what it means to be Catholic and Jesuit, transformative, and leaders. Our conversations must remain positive, in order to use “information not merely to regulate but to change, grow and develop” (Morrison, 2002, p. 17).

Agents can no longer work in silos to approach select issues. All agents must work together toward one common goal. Everyone must approach their work knowing that they are tied in a network. Christakis & Fowler (2011) note that “these ties, and the particular pattern of these ties, are often more important than the individual people themselves.” (p. 10). Even though these groups have different methods in mind, they have one core vision that drives decisions, conversations, and goals that impact the future of the College. Christakis & Fowler also question, “if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, how exactly does the whole come to be greater” (p. 9)? Even though the entire campus community is forced to accept adaptation, their dedication to the mission is what brings them together to work for one purpose. 

Becoming More Resilient

Not only does our social network have to become more intelligent, but our system has to become more resilient. Zolli & Healy (2012) refer to the term “decouple” to describe how an institution like ours can hope to adapt. They believe that a key piece of resilient systems is their ability to “couple with other systems when it helps, but also being able to decouple from them when it hurts” (p. 259). In the case of the system at the College, it is far too reliant on undergraduate enrollment and its traditional silo structure. It can bolster its resilience by diversifying “the resources that can be used to accomplish a given task” (p. 10). One such way is by restructuring how we deliver online programming. 

Online education at the College is developed and delivered much the same way as many programs across the institution. In many ways, however, it is very different. Marketing to online students requires different marketing strategies. The enrollment needs of online students are more complex since students can’t come to campus or maybe from another country. Online faculty require extensive training to teach online and develop online courses. Students require training to learn in the online environment. Developing online programs is even more labor-intensive due to the nature of meeting requirements at a distance. Our campus has managed to make it work, but not without cost. The quality of our online courses, faculty orientation, and service to students at a distance are all areas that can use improvements. Mainly, the way in which we deliver online courses has to become more efficient and less labor-intensive. 

The second way we can bolster resilience is through a re-classing of roles. Lipman-Bluman (1973) suggests that individuals may have to respond to a crisis with “de-differentiation” (p. 105), taking on other roles in the system during a time of a crisis. She describes de-differentiation as the “mobilization of resources ordinarily reserved or underutilized by the social system during periods of relative stability” (p. 105). Students, faculty, and staff generally approach their roles at the College without regard for each other by working in silos. The innovative approach to resilience that I have in mind would require those walls between silos to be shattered and for individuals to share information across borders in order to solve problems at their inception and to better work toward a common goal. In some cases, de-differentiation will require role changes, but in an effort to make the system more efficient. 


“We let go of our old form and figure out how best to organize ourselves in new ways.” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 24)

So far, this paper has examined the complex adaptive system of the College and the perturbations causing its state of chaos. I have also identified two areas of concern being affected by these perturbations. As a leadership theorist, I propose the method of ‘modularization’ to help stabilize the chaos and bolster its resilience.  

Modularization uses a three-step approach– 1. Cluster-like items under a common goal, 2. Concentrate like items by topic, 3. Narrow-like items by task. 


For example, the method of modularization can work for online programming by increasing agility and decreasing its dependence on support. It offers a new way to package our offerings and increases our ability to assess them because it boasts more coordination among the moving pieces. Although there is a bit of course sharing found within most graduate programs across the College, there are definitely some unnecessary thick lines that have been drawn. If the College had one Online Masters of Science in Education program with different concentrations, it could share resources more easily while offering students more options for degree customization. 

One rebuttal to the overlap is that programs oftentimes defend that an entire course has to be customized to meet individual program requirements. One option for these situations is to offer opportunities for customized requirements in the course.

My own Ph.D. program is a modularized model. It’s a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Public Policy and Social Change, Ethical and Creative Leadership, and Humanities and Culture. Cohorts run through the same foundation’s courses and then take courses specific to their concentration. The entire time, individuals are able to incorporate their own focus areas in assignments.

Carthage College (Carthage College, 2013) in Wisconsin offers a “Master of Education” degree that uses the modularization method. Each student in the program takes a core set of classes, selects a specialized track, and selects an area of concentration.

Zolli and Healy (2012) discuss how growth behaves in waves, “you start growing quickly and then your growth slows, and then you stop growing when you reach maturity” (p. 96). Education also works in waves. If we used a core set of courses to make up one mega-program, then we could more easily add or take away concentration strands as they are trending. This is one way in which we can “decouple” (p. 259) to give each program a better chance of success, but also to allow the institution to retract programs easily if needed. Decoupling allows an institution to test out various trending concentrations in order to diversify its portfolio. Zolli and Healy refer to this as well. These waves in education are similar to the waves in growth stocks, “a properly balanced portfolio incorporates various strategies and hedges to smooth out the troughs and the peaks” (p. 38). Zolli & Healy use the example of the Swiss complementary currency, the WIR Franc, and its ability to remain fully operational during a financial crisis (p. 59). When all else failed, this currency kept the country afloat. The College can no longer lean on undergraduate enrollment or hope for financial gifts. We must balance our portfolio. 


Another way in which we can help balance our portfolio is by using modularization to reclass our activity. I will use online programming at the College again as an example. Currently, most of the activity in our online programs is conducted in silos. Program directors work individually with Admissions to advertise their programs and recruit students. If programs hold a residency, they have to coordinate residency events with more than five different offices from across campus. Programs are also in charge of updating their own Web pages.  It is understandable that effort and knowledge may want to be spread across a range of people, rather than to be at risk with only one person housing the knowledge. At the same time, it is the wrong group of people that are being asked to share the effort. In most cases, their alternative skills are not in these areas and so it is taking longer to perform these tasks, while also pulling them away from student issues that matter more. In other words, spreading the effort across the wrong people is costing us more manpower than it would spread expertise among the right people.

What is needed is the rest of the college, and all of its expertise, to pitch in. This kind of decentralization requires a balance between “local empowerment and self-sufficiency” (Zolli & Healy, 2012, p. 92). It is a strategic decentralization, where other individuals with ideas and expertise pitch in to help. Lipman-Blumen (1973) relates this strategic decentralization to a situation where a family member may be incapacitated and a social work agency steps in to help out the rest of the family (p. 115). This approach requires us to free up resources and energy to dedicate to this assistance. 

In some cases, roles may need to change or evolve, to better serve the institution. This de-differentiation “involves mobilization of resources ordinarily reserved or underutilized by the social system during periods of relative stability” (Lipman-Blumen, 1973, p. 105). In the case of the College, once talents are deployed to help stabilize the system, the new contributing role and the traditional role may need to be combined to form a new role that helps to maintain stability (Lipman-Blumen, 1973, p. 114). Of course, the position could revert back to its traditional role, but in the case of education and complex adaptive systems, that is highly unlikely. I propose however that there is a third option for roles– that they may also continue to evolve. Because technology is rapidly advancing and affecting most parts of our society, including education, there may be some roles at an institution that continue to evolve in order to meet the demands of these effects. 

The side effect of this collaborative effort is that it generates information. While Wheatley (2006) says the flow of information can benefit an organization in many ways, most importantly she says that “for a system to remain alive, for the universe to keep growing, information must be continually generated” (p. 96). The flow of information will also reduce our ‘cultural entropy’. Entropy is disorder– a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration. ‘Negative entropy’ is how we uphold order. This entropy is causing a ‘state gap’, what Dooley (1997) defines as the “difference between the perceived organization state and the desired organizational state” (Dooley, 1997, p. 91). Using collaboration to drive the reduction of our cultural entropy will increase awareness about our shared vision and it will “alter the individual’s perspective on the current organizational state” (Dooley, 1997, p. 91). This cultural entropy is under the surface of the issues we discuss and experience on a regular basis. It also contributes to the decline. We have no other choice but to adapt.  


This final portion of this paper will cover suggested steps for implementing modularization and creating a more intelligent network. This tumultuous time has different effects on roles at the institution. As each member struggles to keep focused, tensions increase and it becomes easier to blame others. Individuals inside of the institution are struggling to keep ahold of structure just as much as leaders are trying to point them in the right direction. Leadership is especially needed to “support us as we learn how to live by our values” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 131), but also to “ensure that there is strong and evolving clarity about who the organization is” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 131). While they look towards the future, they also must have an eye on the past. There are crucial components that make the university what it is. In the case of my university, it must preserve its educational prowess and continue to foster a commitment to excellence and service. Leadership will have to balance tradition and the undeniable changes the future will bring. 

Program Efficiency

Online programming at the College is one area that can benefit from modularity. I ask that leaders take a step back and reimagine online education delivery. If the audience demographic has changed, the institution may need to change its approach to appeal to new potential markets. A more modularized delivery could offer many benefits to a Jesuit, Catholic university, like my own. Modularity would allow it to offer one core program woven by the university’s values, malleable concentration strands based on topics and trends, and unique value-added pieces that customize the student experience. That is the key point of this approach– it is about what the customer wants, not traditional approaches that may no longer appeal to today’s workplace and world. This shift would signify that the institution is a leader in the market. 

Modularization sounds like a painful process to implement, but it doesn’t have to be. It can happen in phases, just like any other project. People, however, are the key to making it succeed. A leader would have to be behind and drive this vision with clarity and determination, but putting key people who believe in that mission on the project would guarantee its success. There are some areas that will need to be transitioned sooner than others. In the case of the College, our focus should be on what I call the ‘first impressions’ area of the college. This area includes marketing, enrollment, student support, and retention. In other words, what can we do to make it more appealing to get students in the door and to prepare them for success?

Staff Empowerment

Even in a time of turmoil, there are individuals who continue to care for the well-being of their institution and have faith in their leadership. These are the same individuals who need their leaders to have faith in them by empowering them to be able to solve the problems that they face every day. This is really a human resources issue. Leadership can increase clarity by identifying priority areas of concern and by empowering people on the inside who can lead by using project-based approaches to solve these issues. These individuals should use modularity to define the area of concern, specific problems that need to be fixed, and specialized projects to alleviate each one of the problems. 

As we let go of the old ways of approaching positions, Wheatley (2006) says that “we begin to see ourselves in much richer dimensions, to appreciate our wholeness” (p. 14). Together we are stronger and organizations can draw on this strength. Christakis & Fowler (2011) state that networks “help us to achieve what we could not achieve on our own.” (p. 33). At the same time, individuals, however, crave to have a purpose and to continue to learn, which “implies some desire for survival and improvement.” (Schein, 2010, p. 367). Even in a time of turmoil, there are small areas of order where people are advancing and creating positive change. They need leaders to support and empower them.

Creating a More Intelligent, Resilient Network

Using modularity to adapt programming and staffing is one way in which leaders can implement modularization, but overall, they must approach the university as a complex adaptive system. Each individual is connected in some way. Christakis & Fowler (2011) call this connection ‘ties’ and the collection of ties a ‘network’ (p. 10). These ties affect the culture, positive attitudes, and the gossip present at any institution. Ideas spread across this network and the more connected an individual is to everything and everyone on the inside, the more relevant their solutions are going to be. They see more perturbations and have a greater understanding of how the network is connected. This is why great ideas don’t necessarily emerge from the top, they emerge from the inside. 

In the time of a crisis, the network becomes damaged. Networks have the ability to rebuild themselves (Christakis & Fowler, 2011, p. 18), however, leaders can have a great impact in this area. It is the right approach is to be at the forefront of generating conversations about coming causal perturbations and the opportunities that present themselves as a result. Christakis & Fowler (2011) discuss this concept as “[influencing] how densely interconnected” (p. 18) we are with our network. A leader’s effort in this interconnection helps them to build a better social network. Their effort to drive the conversation positions them in the center of the network (p. 18-19), which also makes them “more susceptible to whatever is flowing within the network.” (Christakis & Fowler, 2011, p. 23). Better communication influences the network’s strength and confidence. 


This paper has used complexity theory to analyze the complex adaptive system that is the College. Perturbations are causing chaos, particularly in the programming and staffing of online education. As a leadership theorist, I’ve proposed a new approach to implementing resilience at the College through modularization. Implementing a modularized system will not be easy in some regards. Role changes are necessary and the institution must let go of its rigid hierarchies. The end result, however, is a system that is better prepared and more able to adapt to any chaos that the future may bring. 


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