Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering


Engineering Management

Committee Director

Charles B. Keating

Committee Member

T. Steven Cotter

Committee Member

Charles B. Daniels

Committee Member

Polinpapilinho F. Katina


The purpose of this research was to develop a systems theory-based framework for leadership in governance of complex systems. Recognizing complexity and uncertainty as norms for the environments in which organizations exist encouraged researchers to suggest complexity theory, complex systems, and complex adaptive systems as appropriate for addressing these conditions. Complex System Governance (CSG), based in systems theory, management cybernetics, and governance, endeavors to provide for the design, execution and evolution of functions that provide control, communication, coordination, and integration at the metasystem level to support operations and continued system existence (viability). From a management cybernetics perspective, CSG leadership has a role in the design of the metasystem that provides governance functions for a complex system. Similarly, leadership assures the existence of conditions necessary for the requisite metasystem functions to be enabled, executed, and evolved sufficiently for continued system viability. In this research, CSG leadership functions were examined from a system theoretic perspective. An extensive body of leadership literature provides insight into leadership from a number of perspectives including leadership as personal traits, leadership as a set of skills, or leadership as a process or relationship. Systems theory conceptual foundations applied to CSG leadership functions are not represented in this literature thus resulting in a gap. This research contributes to addressing that gap by linking systems theory to leadership functions for CSG. The research was a journey of discovery with no pre-established hypotheses that could be tested using deductive approaches, therefore, an inductive approach supportive of exploring, understanding (gaining insight) and discovery was employed. As the purpose was to develop a systems theory-based framework for leadership in governance of complex systems, theory construction was required. As a recognized methodology to discover theory from data, Grounded Theory was chosen as the research methodology.

The framework that resulted from this research presents a novel contribution to CSG leadership that is grounded in systems theory and management cybernetics. It also provides practitioners the opportunity to develop novel approaches for facilitating anticipation, identification, and remediation of leadership issues.