A Practice For Creating Sustainable Organisations by Catherine Hayes

For centuries, our Western mind-sets have been constructed behind a veil of the illusion of simplicity and control.  Even though quantum physics has revealed that our universe is complex and in continuous processes of transition, we have become accustomed to creating a perceived reality that certainty is good, not-knowing and ambiguity are bad. 

The bi-products from these perceptions are the beliefs that change can be managed and ultimately controlled.

The belief that change can be managed and controlled has been embedded into how organisations are designed and function. 

Utilising power through organisational structures.  Advocating individual responsibility and accountability.  Broadcasting information.  Managing behaviours, enforcing the compliance of rules and regulations.  These are just some of the traditional leadership approaches that have been specifically designed to mitigate the risk of individuals, teams and organisations from being out of control. 

Historically these leadership practices have been perceived to be successful. Although, in today’s continuously changing environment they are no longer achieving desired results.  In fact quite the opposite and particularly when it comes to leading successful transformations in organisations.

Our world is in a paradigm transition.  Despite our aspirations, we can no longer rely on the beliefs and historical practices of simplicity and control. Leaders and their organisations are called to accept, adapt and work with things the way they are and becoming, not just the way they want them to be.  Navigating environments of continuous change requires developing new/different perspectives, skills, knowledge and capabilities for working with the emerging complexities of an impermanent landscape.  It’s a practice that I have come to know as Transition Leadership. 

There are four key principles that contribute to successful Transition Leadership practices:

1.  The only certainty is uncertainty

2. We can’t manage change we have to work with it

3.  Ambiguity is ambiguity – it’s all about the nature of the relationships that we have with ambiguity that makes a difference

4.  No one person can know everything and have all the answers

Leaders who embrace these principles appreciate that they can’t lead others and organisations if they can’t lead themselves.  This insight prompts leaders to develop capabilities for supporting themselves and their organisations to work with uncertainty, not-knowing, complexity and ambiguity.

With focused intent, leaders leverage the power of their positions to engage their workforces and create mutuality supportive environments.  By creating clearly defined purposes, transition strategies and approaches they build unifying contexts to connect hearts and minds.  The outcomes result in shared understanding and collective accountability.

As leaders return authority to their workforces, they can leverage the potential in diversity of thought through collective decision making.  This enhances their capabilities for honouring complexity.  By investing time and resources in exploring and working with complex challenges, they and their organisations generate creative approaches for establishing resourceful solutions. 

This in turn means that leaders and their organisations can work with ambiguity and take purposeful incremental approaches for stepping into unknown territories of the present and the continuously evolving future.

Over the last 20 years, I have found that when leaders and their organisations adopt these Transition leadership principles and practices they become resourceful, creating sustainable integrated infrastructures.  The outcomes result in systemic capabilities for navigating environments of continuous change.  Organisations utilise uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity as opportunities for generating innovation, creating products and services that outshine their competitors.  The same applies to leading-edge science and health research, advancement emerges from what is unknown.

If you are interested in understanding more about the practice of Transition Leadership and practical approaches for working with the complexities of change in today's environment, have a look at my book on the topic.


Catherine Hayes is an Organisation Transition and Transformation specialist. She supports leaders and their organisations to navigate and work with complex transition challenges to deliver tangible results. Combing 30 years of practice with 20 years of applied research, organisational, clinical psychology and Buddhist philosophy, she has created change processes and diagnostic analytics and tools that support insight into the complexities and functioning of organisations. Including the development of a transition leadership approach that supports leaders and their workforces to acquire transition capabilities, whilst implementing their transformation agendas. Catherine is also the creator and facilitator of the practitioner Exec MBA Transition Leadership Series at CASS Business School.

Get in touch with Catherine: Catherine@transitiondynamics.co.uk