Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Johanna S. Hunsaker, PhD; Susan M. Zgliczynski, PhD; Bernard J. Dodge, PhD


communication elements, Delphi study, executives, exploratory study, cognitivist, complex system, Complexity theory, Leadership studies, learning elements, management, Oracle Corporation, organizations


As our world grows increasingly complicated at an intensified pace, leaders must be facile managers of complexity if organizations and society are to productively and peacefully evolve. Today’s global corporations are microcosms of complexity and have the potential to affect life for almost all other species. However, many organizations have not yet become aware of themselves as “living” and still operate as industrial age institutions with rationalist thinking traditionally dominating management practice. Many factors impact an organization’s overall effectiveness. Yet, executive leaders are seen as having the ability to influence change and play a vital role in helping people navigate ambiguity. The discussion of managing complex systems has increased since complexity theory has become a focus in the natural sciences. Complexity theory is based on principles of being dynamic, self-organizing, and unpredictable but having observable patterns at a macro level; this can help to inform our understanding of complexity in the social sciences. In particular, it is important to understand how the cognitive skills and methods leaders employ contribute to their ability to effectively lead and learn in complexity. This exploratory study examined how 26 executives at Oracle Corporation function in and observe an actual complex system, while discovering emerging elements and possible leadership guidelines, especially from a cognitive perspective. The Delphi method was employed to examine the study’s research questions given the geographically dispersed subjects located in 12 countries. Iterative questioning allowed executives to give meaningful input on theoretical frameworks; the anonymity afforded by the method enabled leaders to freely express their perspectives. Data collected strongly indicated executives are experiencing elements of complexity in their organizations and a clear consensus that a key challenge leaders face is the attracting, retaining, and motivating of employees, especially top talent. Executives also identified 7 essential learning elements and 11 essential communication elements for leaders of complex environments, in addition to 10 essential characteristics or skills for being effective. Findings also included: the most ineffective leadership characteristics, behaviors “actually” observed as compared to those “most effective,” worldviews among panel members, and suggestions on learning experiences and optimal time periods to develop future leaders.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access