For Complex Development Problems: We Need Bridging Leaders

This afternoon I saw in CNN how residents in Fargo, North Dakota pulled themselves together to protect their town against rising floodwaters by piling sandbags over threatened dikes.

Knowledge management (KM) is about achieving effective group action. During crisis situations — when a common threat is publicly visible and cause-and-effect relationships are known to everyone — effective group action follows easily. In more complex situations, effective group action can happen if there is a leader who can see (better than most people can) and lead through three kinds of complexity:

  • Dynamic complexity: when causes and effects are far apart in space and time, and therefore less publicly visible;
  • Generative complexity: when the future is difficult for most to predict, or is likely to be unfamiliar or different; and
  • Social complexity: when people who are affected or who should take action do not share similar assumptions, beliefs and interests.
    (Source: Adam Kahane’s book “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities,” Berrett-Koehler, 2004)

This type of leader is called a bridging leader.

Bridging leadership is about creating or enhancing bridging social capital (see my previous blog post D13- Bridging social capital versus bonding social capital). Bridging leaders are those who can understand, engage and lead groups of people with diverse interests to effective group action to solve problems or achieve goals under conditions of complexity. Bridging leaders fight against social exclusions. To pull the inhabitants of Planet Earth through the difficult 21st century problems of poverty, environmental collapse, ethnic-religious wars and threat of nuclear war, we NEED more bridging leaders — a critical issue I have written about in my previous blogs.

Only a bridging leader can comfortably lead a “team of rivals” the way President Barack Obama does. President Obama borrowed the phrase “team of rivals” from President Abraham Lincoln whom he admires.

Bridging leadership is another core of human capital (see previous blog post on Q21- Rediscovering a Core of Human Capital: Sophia), the skill to work effectively in the intersection of relationship capital and motivational factors. Following our expanded KM framework:


Two days ago I received a phone call from a niece Ms. Aisa Villanueva, asking for assistance. She is co-founder and officer of a non-government organization — Bridging Leaders into Successful Societies. I was so impressed that young people fresh from college are inspired to work for the social good. I am properly reminded: there is hope for our Planet. Serendipity!

This month, another serendipity occurred: our NGO — CCLFI — started working with the Asian Institute of Management TeaM Energy Center for Bridging Societal Divides (CBSD). We are co-producing an e-manual on Post-Project Knowledge Capture that will be useful to development workers. We intend to give away the e-manual for free, and invite others to use and contribute to its enrichment.

There is a new and significant discourse a-forming around the new field of bridging leadership. If you wish to know more about it, you can check the AIM TeaM Energy CBSD website and that of their Bridging Leadership Fellows Program. You can also check out the Bridging Leadership Resource Center in the website of Synergos.

Tell us what you think.

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