Title: The Dawn of System Leadership
Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review

Brief summary: System leaders – those people who look to change entire complex systems – are necessary to address many issues our world faces today.  This article enumerates key skills and tools that can be harnessed to bring about revolutionary change.

Main takeaway: Complex problems demand complex solutions – here’s a great outline of what that looks like.

Biggest critique: not focused enough on data/analysis.  How can we be more informed system leaders in the information age?

The Dawn of System Leadership

“At no time in history have we needed such system leaders more. We face a host of systemic challenges beyond the reach of existing institutions and their hierarchical authority structures. Problems like climate change, destruction of ecosystems, growing scarcity of water, youth unemployment, and embedded poverty and inequity require unprecedented collaboration among different organizations, sectors, and even countries. Sensing this need, countless collaborative initiatives have arisen in the past decade—locally, regionally, and even globally. Yet more often than not they have floundered—in part because they failed to foster collective leadership within and across the collaborating organizations.”

 3 Core Capabilities of System Leaders

  1. See the larger system
  2. Foster reflection and generative conversations
  3. Shift collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future

3 Gateways to becoming a system leader

Real change starts with recognizing that we are part of the systems we seek to change.

1) Re-directing attention: seeing that problems “out there” are “in here” also—and how the two are connected

We must understand our individual roles within the system and that the system is bigger than just us

2) Re-orienting strategy: creating the space for change and enabling collective intelligence and wisdom to emerge

The wicked leader is he whom the people despise.
The good leader is he whom the people revere.
The great leader is he of whom the people say, “We did it ourselves.” (Lao Tzu)

3) Practice, practice, practice: all learning is doing, but the doing needed is inherently developmental

3 sets of tools:

  • Tools for seeing the larger system.Systems mapping can be used to extend this inquiry by helping stakeholders build a visual picture of the relationship and interdependencies beyond the boundaries they normally assume.
  • Tools for fostering reflection and generative conversation. Examples include the peacekeeping circles and dialogue interviews. Two other tools we have often seen used by system leaders are “peer shadowing” and “learning journeys.
  • Tools for shifting from reacting to co-creating the future. Helping themselves and others generate and sustain creative tension becomes one of the core practices of system leaders.”

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