Masters of Complexity: Leading Effectively in Public Education

Like never before, work in all industries is becoming increasingly complex.

Leaders face significant and often competing challenges, like fewer dollars and greater accountability, global competition and a high bar for quality.

We're facing next-generation work, and traditional skills like negotiation and delegation no longer cut it.

To thrive, next-generation leaders need new and expansive skills that researchers have just begun to map. Among them: multi-sector experience, "greater diversity of experience and thinking styles," and emphasizing collaboration to make a broader organizational impact.1,2,3

These skills have not yet been analyzed for specific applications to the education sector, where urban school systems, charter schools, and nonprofits operate in an incredibly complex, diverse environment with complicated webs of internal and external push-and-pull demands.

To start the conversation on next-generation education leadership, Education Pioneers has released "Masters of Complexity: Leading Effectively in Public Education."

Through analyzing recent research on next-generation leadership, along with anecdotal evidence from three Education Pioneers alumni who currently work in complicated education environments, Education Pioneers has identified five underlying traits that together define a "master of complexity"- that is, a leader at any level within an education organization who ensures academic success for all students.

Masters of complexity:

  • Think of the whole picture, not just an individual piece, regardless of role;
  • Know and appreciate what others value and need for success;
  • Rely on diversity as the means to higher quality decisions and outcomes;
  • Nurture and leverage a wide-ranging personal network from different groups;
  • Act as courageous catalysts who constantly search for and see real opportunities for change-and have the courage to initiate them.

In education, extraordinary leadership means more than simply getting through the day; it means coordinating a wide array of stakeholders and resources to align people and their work to create high-performing, student-centered school systems.

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  1. Lovegrove, N., & Thomas, M. (2013). Triple-strength leadership. Harvard Business Review, (September).
  2. Thomas, R. J., Bellin, J., Jules, C., & Lynton, N. (2013). Developing tomorrow's leaders. MIT Sloan Management Review, (September).
  3. CEB. Identifying and enabling breakthrough performance in the new work environment, Arlington VA, 2013.


I have enjoyed reading "Masters of Complexity". I am aware of several educational situations where a MOC intervention would have been a welcomed help. Initiating change in educational institutions is most needed and most difficult. The innovative tactics discussed in this reading is inspirational.

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