Systems Leadership in practice

I was kindly invited by Debbie Sorkin to attend an event on Systems Leadership last week. It was held at the University of West of England’s business school, and was part peer support, part theory and part sharing findings on how Systems Leadership works in practice.

I’ve highlighted before why I’m so taken with what Systems Leadership seeks to do – see here and here – and it was great to hear directly from people who have been explicitly putting this approach into practice through the Local Vision programme.

The Local Vision programme is run by the Leadership Programme and supports 25 areas with Systems Leadership at the moment. An interim evaluation (pdf) of how this has been working so far is now available, and there’s lots of good stuff in there to look at and consider. I’m particularly taken with the importance of the Enabler role – a person who:

  • Builds a safe space, relationships and trust
  • Surfaces hidden themes and patterns
  • Fosters recognition and ownership of what needs to change
  • Creates shared purpose and collective connection
  • Explores and fosters recognition of the nature of systems leadership
  • Brokers/acts as independent arbiter; encouraging reflection and learning.

As if to highlight this is a way of working that deserves more attention, the King’s Fund also last week published a fascinating report about the practice of Systems Leadership and “being comfortable with chaos”.

One final point: it was rightly noted at the UWE event that Systems Leadership isn’t the only answer. I agree wholeheartedly with this: we cannot and should not dogmatically take a Systems Leadership approach to every problem we face, if not for the sole reason that not every problem will be suited to such an approach.