Systemic Leadership?

The Search For Leadership:
[Via Ackoff Center Weblog]

Dear Colleague, Even the most sophisticated Leadership Development programs in even the most forward-thinking organizations can seem like little more than glorified fish polishing. Systems Thinking (and our own experience) tell us that individual managers and leaders are like fish…


Systemic leadership can not accomplish much if the water is foul. That is, if the group to be led and the social environment are not conducive to effective leadership, none will occur. The post mentioned these points:

* a leader is only as good as the system he or she operates in

* leadership isn’t just about leaders or people, it’s about the whole organizations (its values, culture, policies, shadow-side, strategies, systems, etc.)

* ‘leader development’ [what Bill Tate calls ‘polishing fish before putting them back into the murky water of the fish tank’] is a fatally flawed solution

* a more distributed leadership culture is vital if organizations are to tap into front-line experience and generate energy for change

Unfortunately, the linked website appears to exist in order to sell the book. There are a few interesting links, including this one that describes systemic leadership. It does contain this interesting paragraph:

Displaying leadership – including moral leadership – isn’t easy in a quagmire. If we want to improve people’s behaviour in an organisation we need to examine the system and look at what people are surrounded with. Leaders often create their own mess, or fail to notice that entropy is doing it for them. And they often have to clean up the mess themselves. But most leaders are part of the system; they do not have the luxury of watching comfortably from the outside.

The organization has to permit effective leadership. Of course, in my experience it is easier to find an ethical organization to work with than to try and change an unethical one. I wonder if William Tate has a solution?

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