Organization Development

Date of this version

Spring 4-19-2021

Document Type



leadership, loosely coupled system, multi-stakeholder system, shared leadership, collaborative leadership, cross-sector collaboration


As the world continues to evolve towards more collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders, challenging established hierarchies and systems, leadership is called upon and questioned. The purpose of this research was to understand the leadership phenomena in a loosely coupled, multi-stakeholder system. The researcher employed qualitative methods using grounded theory and gathered data through a series of in-depth interviews, ethnographic observations, personal leadership experiences and reflections, focus groups, and theoretical sampling. Constant comparative analysis produced four major categories of leadership phenomenon: the why, the what, the how, and the who. Grounded in the experience of research participants, the developed theory explains that acts of leadership happen at the system level, the core group level, the coalition of the willing level, and the founding members level (the “we”). A small group of people (the “who”) utilize the processes of influence (the “how”), self accountability (the “what”), and moral responsibility (the “why”) to carry out the purpose of the system and maintain the values of collaboration. The loosely coupled, multi-stakeholder system acts as a living organism that interacts with the external environment and internal resources to accomplish its purpose. The four dimensions of the system (the why, the what, the how, and the who) interplay and interact with each other in a dynamic, cyclical fashion where four levels of leadership are enacted by individual actors: taking responsibility, inviting to collaborate, forming and sustaining the “leadership” team, and balancing chaos and order.