Navigating Uncertainty and Complexity Leadership


On March 23, Dr. Anu Rathninde, president of Johnson Controls Asia Pacific, visited ZIBS and was appointed as ZIBS Professor of Practice. We've also invited him to join the Z Talk Series sharing his perspectives on the impact of new technology on business education.


During the visit, he also gave a lecture to ZIBS faculty, staff and students around the topic of "Complexity Leadership". Let's get a quick review on how to develop leadership.




Leadership: Self-management

Just like boating or playing cards, there are rules in the game that everyone needs to follow. Also, everyone has to fight to win the game, even though they may not get a perfect body or perfect hand. In a word, everyone is under pressure to be successful, and so are the leaders: they are under tremendous pressure to Get-Things-Done and Deliver on Expectations.


Anu mentioned that the whole question is about how to win. As the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tze has said: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. (知己知彼,百战不殆)" Thus, if you want to be a successful leader, you only need to know two things: yourself and your enemy. Learning to know oneself is a "must" for leaders, though it might not be as easy as imagined.




Leadership: Responsibility Model

Anu pointed out that "transformation" and "uncertainty" have been with human development throughout its history since the emergence of human civilization. From the invention of stone and bronze tools thousands of years ago to the application of water power and steam engines and today's digital evolution, ChatGPT is one of the hallmarks of digital evolution. Transformation has always existed as long as human beings have progressed. Likewise, uncertainty has always existed, but the role of the leader lies in taking responsibility amid transformation and uncertainty – Leaders’ behavior creates mindsets of the organization that drive how it behaves. What is happening is the result of organizational behavior; therefore, leader is responsible for everything happening in the organization.


Anu also introduced the leadership responsibility model, explaining that in terms of the structure of the leader's responsibilities, the leadership behavior creates organizational mental models and mindsets, which influence the mindsets that create systematic structures morals, values, and culture in the organization. It will further affect the systematic structures and patterns of the organization, which ultimately decide the execution of specific tasks.




Complexity Leadership

As Anu shared with us, living things, like people, organizations, societies, and global business are all complex, containing a series of complex relationships of interaction, interdependence, learning, adaptation, and evolution. Organizations are Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) with intricate relationships within them, and the challenge for leaders is to increase performance and create more knowledge.


Anu then further proposed the SIILA Complex Leadership Model for Complexity Leadership, which includes:


Systematic Thinking






He explained that leaders need to get things done and deliver on commitments when the outcome is uncertain.




As for ways to tackle complexity, he shared that there is no way to bring certainty and determinism back to our lives and work. We can onlylearn and adapt continuously to lead through these uncertainties. The ability for a leader to tackle complexity comes down to having the right mindset and getting the small things done that matter most, both in life and at work.


In addition, one of the most important ways to sustain success lies in the habit: we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit. Repeating the SIILA loop, converting knowledge into skills, and thus forming the habit through repetition. In a word: never give up!



Anu Rathninde

ZIBS Professor of Practice


President, Asia Pacific of Johnson Controls


Anu Rathninde is the president of Johnson Controls Asia Pacific, overseeing operations in the entire region. 

For over 25 years, as a global citizen, Anu has successfully led large organizations in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Anu holds five degrees, including a leadership Ph.D. from LIGS University, an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business, a Master of Global Management from Thunderbird University, a Master of Mechatronics Systems from the National University of Singapore, and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Peradeniya. 



Navigating Uncertainty and Complexity Leadership