Systemic Leadership – Part 5

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

5.     A Systemic Approach to Leadership Development


Based on the increasing number of organizations using  some or all of the approaches outlined in Part 4, it is becoming clear that significant changes are starting to emerge in the way organizations view leadership development.  New thinking around the ways leaders develop their abilities and effectiveness, the role of the organization in supporting this process, and how support systems can be developed, is showing clear systemic tendencies.  Underlying these changes are several shifts in perspective.  These are the subject of this final section of the Module, and the perspectives are presented as a set of contrasting questions followed by a brief outline of the issue being illustrated.

5.1    Development as a process.

From asking:

We have a manager who needs development … here are the facts … which programme is needed?

To asking:

We wish to engage a high potential manager in a process of development over time … maybe up to five years …where do we begin?

The business environment of the 21st Century creates a sense of urgency to produce short-term results, and thus short-term solutions.  In this sort of climate, those advocating a long-term systemic approach to development face a real challenge from colleagues with a bottom-line orientation.  But the fact remains that development, by its very nature, occurs as a process over time.  There is no such thing as a quick fix!

5.2    Keeping the ‘whole’ in view.

From asking:

As part of my annual appraisal I am required to do some training … what would you suggest?

To asking:

I’d like to achieve a balance in my development activities for this year … what I’m already doing is … what I think is lacking is … what other experiences might I integrate with what I’m doing?

Many organizations believe that training is the ‘stuff’ of development, and the organization’s role is simply to provide training.  But increasingly the view is emerging that training is one component of the development process.  This view is encouraging organizations to expand their portfolios to include 360-degree feedback, feedback-intensive programmes, skill-based training, job assignments and developmental relationships – in short, the full range of development experiences described in Section 5, above.

5.3    Integrated development.

From asking:

I need to create a development experience for a specific team … they are reluctant to take the time out … how can I convince them that this development is critical?

To asking:

I need to create richer learning experiences for a team … I’ve been working with them to explore ways of building more development into their day-to-day operations … can you help me design some assignments that will provide powerful learning experiences for the team?

Traditionally, development has been viewed as something separate from the day-to-day work of the organization, something that requires sending people off-site.  Increasingly, however, organizations are finding rich sources of development under their own roof.  They are creating development experiences within people’s regular, on-going work using strategies such as:

  • Adding challenges to people’s present jobs;
  • Giving people special, short-term assignments;
  • Making selection decisions for new positions with at least one eye to who it might serve as a significant development experience.

Today, development does not mean taking people away from their work.  It means helping them learn from their work.

5.4    From simplicity to complexity.

From asking:

How can I make this manager a better communicator?

To asking:

How can this manager learn how to influence a cross-functional group of people with widely differing perceptions in order to deliver innovative solutions that everyone buys into?

In an environment where organizations face continual change, rapid innovation and globalization, complexity is being accepted as the norm.  People who have to manage in this complex world have complex development needs.  The learning challenges are often steep and multidimensional.  Although clearly defined training objectives were the focus of the past, the 21st Century requires us to meet development goals that are continually evolving and linked to an unstable mix of benchmarks and competencies for exploitation in an ambiguous future.

5.5    Shared responsibility.

From asking:

How can I get my employees to realise they are responsible for their own development?

To asking:

How can we come to an agreement as to our shared responsibilities and roles in the development process?

With the extinction of the paternalistic organization and the evolution of the new employment contract, the issue of employee responsibility for personal and professional development looms large.   However, in some organizations the pendulum has swung too far.  Organizations with a systemic perspective know that all levels –  individual employees, their line managers, HR professionals, senior executives, and the organization as a whole – must be closely involved with all aspects of development.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

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