Systemic Leadership – Part 3

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

3.     Integrating the New Paradigms


Systemic leadership actively incorporates, integrates and practices the new ways of working – relating, influencing and leading.  It is a higher order of leadership, one that matches the complex complexity of the 21st Century.  In Part 3 we will explore eleven new competencies that flow from the four new ways of working.  A competency is the ability to learn new knowledge and/or skills and be able to apply them to a wide range of situations.

3.1    Competencies for a Highly-connected World

Each of the competencies we will now explore has a personal and organizational dimension.  This reflects the depth of transformation required for real change to happen.  In the spirit of drawing on analogy from the natural world, the relationship between the personal and organizational dimensions may be represented by the double helix in a DNA strand.  One strand is related to personal competencies, whilst the other strand is related to organizational competencies.  These two strands of competency combine to create a code that determines the nature and behaviour of the organization.

(a)       The ability to actively engage.

People make choices with regard to their engagement with change that include:

  • Withdrawal
  • Cynicism
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Feigned participation
  • Victim
  • Active engagement
  • Committed participation
  • Leader
  • Active change agent

On a personal level we have to develop an action-oriented mindset, i.e. one associated with the latter four engagements given above.  This requires the belief that our actions can make a difference (a key prerequisite of motivation) and therefore we should choose action over passivity.

On an organizational level we must start to learn how the system operates, what our role is within the system, who our allies are with respect to change, and where the leverage points are within the system that allow natural dynamics to bring about transformation.

(b)       The ability to collaborate.

On a personal level, collaboration requires the development of trust and authenticity.  When we trust others we share our thoughts and feelings because we believe they will not be held against us.  When others share their thoughts and feelings with us, they perceive us to be trustworthy and believe we will not hold their thoughts against them.  If we have relationships built on trust we will be more open and able to collaborate with others.

On an organizational level, this competency involves cultivating collaborative relationships and, in order to influence change, developing a network of individuals who will help influence the system in a desired direction.

(c)       The ability to continually learn.

On a personal level, this competency involves becoming an integrated learner, i.e. one who continually creates feedback loops between the domains of new knowledge, skills and daily practices in order to accelerate and inform learning and creativity.

On an organizational level, constant change requires groups to accelerate the sharing of new knowledge, skills and daily working practices in order to adapt to the changing conditions of their environment.  The purpose of continual learning is to survive and thrive within an ever changing environment.

(d)       The ability to hold diverse perspectives.

On a personal level, appreciating different perspectives is an essential prerequisite for a full understanding of highly-connected systems.  This appreciation has its foundation in our individual responses to diversity.  Do we value and respect difference?  Do we believe that diversity enhances and enriches our personal lives?  Individuals who thrive on diversity would seek it out and actively incorporate different perspectives, experiences and individuals into their lives and worldview.

On an organizational level, leveraging multiple perspectives is needed if the system is to benefit from the diversity that is inevitably present, rather than be restricted by the prejudices or fear often associated with diversity.  The ultimate aim of capitalising on diversity is to move from individual intelligence to collective wisdom.

(e)       The ability to express emotional maturity.

On a personal level, emotional maturity is the capacity to be attentive to what is happening around us and empathic with others, enabling us build relationships based on trust and authenticity.

On an organizational level, we must be aware that in a highly-connected world, emotions flow freely through the connections.  During periods of change, an organization can be swamped with emotional overload.  Collective emotional maturity allows organizations to deal productively with the emotions they propagate and, as a result, personal and organizational learning is accelerated.

(f)        The ability to engage with paradox.

On a personal level, seeking out paradoxes and living with them can prepare us for the jumps and leaps that are the natural dynamics of highly-connected systems.  Paradoxes often provide a way of seeing the non-linear nature of networks.

On an organizational level, optimising the relationship between opposites can help systems evolve.  For example, the tension between chaos and control can lead to new forms of innovation in an organization.  Optimising the tension between challenge and support can facilitate growth and development in individuals.  The tension between anxiety and boredom can facilitate learning.

(g)       The ability to make meaning.

On a personal level, what this search is, and how it is conducted, is highly individualistic.  The search for meaning has been a human pastime for at least five millennia.  Some argue that it is the inevitable consequence of a self-conscious brain.

On an organizational level, fostering communities that are organized around a shared sense of vision is critical for the leadership of a highly-connected system.  And communities of meaning in a highly-connected world can be created over great distances, e.g.  the development of ‘virtual universities’ that draw on expertise that would otherwise be impractical to draw together into one physical space.

(h)       The ability to see and understand patterns.

On a personal level, the ability to recognise the paradigm that provides the most powerful explanation of the dynamics of the system we are interested in is a critical competency.  This is about recognising the importance of context and understanding its effect on what we are seeing and on the interventions we may make when trying to influence the system.

On an organizational level, pattern recognition is the key.  In any situation there are multiple assumptions and paradigms that can be chosen to provide explanations as to what is happening and what needs to be done.  In a closed system, tradition ‘blinds’ insight.  Seeking and being open to new patterns is what is needed in a highly-connected world.

(i)         The ability to undergo profound change.

On a personal level, in order to facilitate deep organizational change we need first to develop the capacity for personal transformation.  Most people will not follow a leader who does not lead by example.  And we must overlay this with the recognition that all influencing relationships are two-way.  If we are asking others to be open to our influence, we must be open to being influenced by them.

On an organizational level, the transformation of an organization is the product of the transformations of the individuals within it.  In turn, the transformation of individuals is a product of the transformations of the organization.  An understanding of this feedback loop is essential for guided evolution – and revolution.

(j)         The ability to see and understand connections.

On a personal level, seeing connections within a highly-connected system is a core competency in facilitating effective influence.  People become ‘systems thinkers’ when they see and understand how their part of the organization fits with the whole system, when they see how the past effects the present and how the present effects the future.

On an organizational level, highly connected systems have emergent properties, i.e. are greater than the sum of their parts.  System dynamics looks at how the whole organization behaves, anticipates, understands and then engages with change.  Once individuals can see the connections within systems, they need to apply this knowledge to the organizational level by developing the capacity to leverage the dynamics of the connections to facilitate and influence change.

(k)       The ability to sustain effort.

On a personal level, this is about sustaining your personal balance.  Because highly-connected systems constantly change, and never shut down, we need to develop and conserve our energy and resources over the long term.  In finite games, we can come close to burn-out or injury because we know there will be a rest period between games.  In a highly-connected system there is no rest period – the action is non-stop.  Therefore we need to develop the competency of sustaining our own balance so we can maintain endurance over time.

On an organizational level, we need to develop the capacity to sustain the organization and its resources over time.  Resources include people, material and intellect.

3.2    Enriching the Meaning of Work

The practice of systemic leadership challenges us to formulate new assumptions that explain our world and the organizations we inhabit.  Applying these assumptions to our work leads us to adopt new roles within our organizations.  These new roles can be practiced from anywhere, not just through positions of authority.  The development and refinement of the eleven new competencies are necessary for the practice of systemic leadership, and with these competencies we can help our organizations transform themselves and increase their capacity to thrive within our increasingly connected world.

The ideas that have been introduced and explored in the preceding sections are not complete until each of us further develops them to our own individual and organizational contexts.

If not this, what?  If not now, when?  If not me, who?

Hock, D.W. (1996), System thinking. Keynote address presented at the Systems Thinking Conference, San Francisco.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

Screen shot - Home Page


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s