Monday, March 21, 2011

Gavin Newsom- Turning California Green

The global environment is one of the most complexly organized systems known to man. There are an enormous amount of factors that can affect the environment as a whole and therefore create an impact on our civilizations. That is why it is advantageous for leaders across the world to enable their people to act in a manner that is sustainable, and environmentally responsible. Unfortunately the existing pattern of Governmental leadership has shown little interest in actions towards theses “green” issues. However, one great example of a “green”, enabling leader is the former mayor of San Francisco, and current Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom. As mayor of San Francisco, the city was awarded the Green Power Leadership Award for their production of significant amounts of on-site green energy from renewable resources such as solar power and wind.

 Newsom’s willingness to take bold political risks and his unwavering personal integrity have led him to consistently be ahead of the game on many important social and economic issues, from marriage equality and universal health care to homelessness and education. But the environment is truly the issue where Newsom’s unrelenting desire to create revolutionary reform is most apparent.

Newsom’s political record proves that he is a fierce and passionate advocate for the environment. In 2006, while most of this country’s leaders were engaged in a contentious debate over whether or not climate change is real, Mayor Newsom had already authored the Urban Environmental Accords, closed a fossil-fuel burning power plant, created the country’s largest alternative fuel fleet of buses and cars and passed numerous laws to help San Francisco’s residents and businesses be more environmentally conscious. From solar panels and mandatory composting and recycling to authoring the strongest municipal green building standards in the United States for new construction and major renovations, Mayor Newsom has turned San Francisco into one of the greenest cities in the world and has established himself as one of the greenest mayors in the country.

California State Senator Fran Pavley, has said that Mayor Newsom is a “bold, innovative leader who has proven that job creation and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive” and that Newsom is “exactly what Sacramento needs for California to continue to be a beacon of environmental leadership around the world.”

So how does all of this relate to specific, leadership concepts of theories??

The entire context of environmental consciousness and green leadership, along with Newsom’s leadership, can be directly related to the theory of Complexity Leadership. “Complexity theory is a science of complexly interacting systems; it explores the nature of interaction and adaptation in such systems and how they influence such things as emergence, innovation, and fitness. Thos research argues that complexity theory focuses leadership efforts on behaviors that enable organizational effectiveness, as opposed to determining or guiding effectiveness. Complexity science broadens conceptualizations of leadership from perspectives that are heavily invested in psychology (e.g., human relations models) to include processes for managing dynamic systems and inter-connectivity.” – (

The environment is an extremely complex system that brings with it much uncertainty and ambiguity. It absolutely requires us, people, to adapt to it and to find ways to harness its potential. Newsom has taken many actions in an attempt to manage the dynamic process of environmental responsibility and has greatly increased the commitment and inter-connectivity of the San Francisco people. The City generates more than 25 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually from its biogas facilities and nine municipal solar installations. These solar installations are located on nine facilities and rooftops throughout the City, including the City’s largest reservoir, a recycling center, the San Francisco International Airport, and a public library. The City is also in the process of placing additional solar arrays on other municipal buildings and is considering adding urban wind and ocean power projects to its portfolio. These solar panels essentially allow for anyone to take part in the environmental move and do their parts to produce sustainable energy.

In complexity leadership, change, and more importantly adapting to change, is essential for growth and further development within any organization. But before any change can actually take place the status quo or equilibrium of the entity must but upset or disrupted. Existing patterns of operations must be disrupted and novelty, creativity, and innovation must be encouraged. Organizations must move away from stability and move towards complexity. This process is achieved when “adaptive tension” is created-   *(Energy or resource differentials within the system and between the system and the environment that may lead to changes in the system which enhance fitness or performance according to some measure.)

Newsom was not afraid to tackle complex issues such as environmental sustainability and responsibility and was also not afraid to move San Francisco towards a state of uncertainty and complexity for the overall betterment of the system (World & Economy).  Relating this to Newsom’s leadership, you can see many parallels, one of which being the overall need for jobs in our failing economy. There was a resource difference between the people of California and the economy and an energy difference between the economy and the environment as a whole. Simply put, the tension caused by the lack of jobs and an over consumption of energy was adaptively addressed by Newsom when he was able to create numerous “green” jobs that helped both the economy and the environment. This change has definitely had an impact of the overall fitness and wellness of the environment and economy and has set an example for other areas of the country, and world, to follow.        

The actions of Newsom have essentially created a complex adaptive system within California that has created green jobs and has enabled individuals to lead with their own personal actions. As stated in class slides, a complex adaptive system could be defined as a system made up of a large number of active elements that are diverse in both form and capability, with the ability to adapt.” Newsom has found ways through his effective leadership to align the goals of diverse and sometimes competing elements and parties, to strive for the common goal of environmental wellness. He has brought ordinary citizens and business together for the same common cause.  

Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation at the EPA released the statement that the “EPA congratulates our leadership award winners for demonstrating by example, the importance of using clean, renewable energy. By using green power, the City of San Francisco is leading the way toward cleaner air and a healthier environment while helping advance the market for renewable energy.” Newsom has cultivated an environment where others can produce innovations that will greatly help the environment and lead to a productive yet uncertain future. He has encouraged cooperation above his own self-interest and has incentivized citizens and businesses to take a part in the green movement and to lead in there own differing ways. The purposes of Newsom’s actions are to better the environment as a whole and to encourage environmental sustainability and not stifle it with the status quo and routine style of thinking.   

What other effective leadership styles do you think Newsom displays?

Do you think this green initiative is actually going to help boost the economy? 

By: Jarett Diederich


  1. Newsom's green initiative definitely helped boost the green economy, if that makes sense. There is a higher market in San Francisco for creators of renewable energy, such as windmill farms, then there was before the initiative. Whether or not he can boost the overall economy right now is rather irrelevant, since additional green policies are more of an investment towards the future. Cleaner air and a healthier environment for now and for the future are the focal point of any green initiative, and any boosts to the economy are simply icing on the cake.

    -Jonathan Lucento-

  2. I am quite impressed that you applied Complexity Leadership Theory to this story. Good job!