Stacey Matrix — Choose the Best Leadership Approach

Maggie Sun
4 min readFeb 4, 2021


Developed by Ralph Douglas Stacey, the Stacey Matrix is a useful management tool for choosing the best leadership approach and management actions to respond to various business situations with different degrees of complexity.

The two dimensions of Stacey Matrix: agreement and certainty.


- Close to Certainty: When underlying cause and effect relationships are clear, past experiences well applicable, and the outcomes predictable.

- Far from Certainty: When underlying cause and effect relationships are unclear, past experiences irrelevant, and the outcomes unpredictable.


- Close to agreement: When the key stakeholders involved in an issue or decision are aligned in terms of values, interests, and objectives, etc., or are close enough to find common ground to move forward.

- Far from agreement: When the key stakeholders involved in an issue or decision are in conflict and are too far apart to find common ground to move forward.

Five zones within the two axes:

1. Simple Zone: close to agreement, close to certainty

  • In this area of the matrix, there’s little complication or complexity in the situation. Abundant technical data accumulated in the past can be used to predict the future and plan ahead in detail before work starts; later on, work can also be well controlled by monitoring against the plan.
  • Examples of simple issues: bake a cake using a recipe from a cookbook, manage a payroll system, administer a scholarship program, etc.
  • In simple situations, leaders and managers should focus on strong implementation while adhering to best practices; make sure to gather all of the facts about the situation and be willing to adapt reaction should the situation change.

2. Political Zone: far from agreement, close to certainty

  • Political contexts exist when cause-and-effect relationships underlying an issue are clear but stakeholders disagree on both the importance of the issue and how to move forward.
  • Examples of political issues: What is a fair minimum wage? Which child gets the biggest bedroom? Who should be elected as the next president? Etc.
  • In political contexts, leaders and managers need to create the conditions for key stakeholders to explore where and how to find common ground. This can be accomplished by creating space for negotiation and dialogue so that stakeholders can reach compromise and see a “win-win” path forward. The best solution in political situations is the one that’s acceptable for all stakeholders.

3. Complicated Zone: close to agreement, far from certainty

  • Complicated contexts exist when stakeholders are close to agreement but short of certainty about the cause and effect relationships and possible solutions.
  • Examples of complicated issues: fix a watch; learn to fly a plane; send a rocket to the moon, etc.
  • To resolve complicated issues, leaders often rely on experts who possess vast knowledge and experience about the cause-and-effect relationships and who know what has been tried in the past. With enough time and resources, they can often find multiple possible solutions through creative thinking, experimentation, and debate.

4. Complex Zone: somewhat far from both agreement and certainty

  • Complex contexts exist when cause and effect relationships are unclear, stakeholders are far from agreement, and solutions tend to be context specific.
  • Examples of complex issues: manage a large organization; raise a child; improve difficult employees’ performance, etc.
  • Leaders and manager can draw upon best practice and expertise to resolve complex issues. Effective solutions can only be found with creativity, innovation and through experimenting with responses that reveal the underlying cause and effect patterns of the challenge. Adaptability and agility are key skills here, for manager, team members and stakeholders alike.

5. Chaotic Zone: far from agreement, far from certainty

  • Chaotic situations exist when the context is highly unstable, cause-and-effect relationships are unclear, possible solutions are only a guess, and stakeholders are much divided.
  • Examples of chaotic situations: COVID-19 pandemic; address the violence and genocide in Rwanda; respond to staff turnover and financial crisis in a non-profit organization, etc.
  • People and organizations do their best to avoid chaos but it cannot always be avoided. When faced with a chaotic situation, leaders and managers have to assess the situation based on whatever information they can muster, create clear communication channels between everyone involved, mobilize available stakeholders to do whatever works to stabilize the situation right away, and address the most threatening aspects of the crisis first (and develop a more systematic response once the situation is under control).


Stacey matrix. (2019). Retrieved from

Cabaj, M. (2018). Situational Leadership & Management: Agreement & Certainty Matrix. Retrieved from



Maggie Sun

MBA, certified agile coach and experienced strategy analyst, specializing in business agility, agile leadership, Beyond Budgeting, and general management.