面臨社會上極為棘手的問題，如果要加速進步的腳步，需要促成深度的變化。此時需要一種獨特的領導風格 – 系統性領導者，一位可以催化集體領導的領袖。
- 在工作中學習: 系統性領導者的培養是一個不會停止的過程，如果要成功，就必須與工作本質有所串連。雖然培訓和其他介入性的做法會有幫助，如果能融入於一個鼓勵持續反思與合作的環境，效果會更好。
- 平衡主張與探詢: 所有的改變都需要熱烈的倡議者，但是倡議者往往被自己的觀點卡住，無法與意見不同的人有所交流。所以系統性的領導者必須持續培養聆聽、探索不同想法的能力。透過真誠的探究來領導，或許說起來很容易，但是對於熱烈的倡議者來說，卻是一個很深層的學習之旅。
- 讓跨界人士互動參與: 光是在我們的舒適圈裡運作，是不可能讓真正促成改變的各領域的人有所交流的。Winslow就表示：「通常用不同的觀點思考一個系統，才能激發出創新。」
- 放下: 系統性的領導者需要有策略，但是最有成效的領導者應該學習如何「跟著能量走」，如果面臨意想不到的路徑，機會在此浮現時，要將這策略暫時放下。
- 創造自己的工具組: 創造自己的工具組並不是單純將弓箭準備好，而是透過有紀律的練習，學習成為好的弓箭手。
- 與其他系統性的領導者搓切學習: 培養自己成為一個更有成效的系統性領導者，是困難的，因為需要在困難的條件下，在強大的壓力下展現有形的成效。即使是經驗豐富的系統性領導者，如果覺得自己一個人就可以做到，就有點太過天真。
The Dawn of System Leadership
The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society’s most intractable problems require a unique type of leader—the system leader, a person who catalyses collective leadership.
At no time in history have we needed 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 organisations, sectors, and even countries. Sensing this need, countless collaborative initiatives have arisen in the past decade—locally, regionally, and even globally. Yet many have also floundered in part because they failed to foster collective leadership within and across the collaborating organizations.
The purpose of this article is to demystify system leaders and the myth of the heroic individual leader.
Core Capabilities of System Leaders
System leaders’ commitment to the health of the whole nurtures similar commitment in others. Their ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves encourages others to be more open as well. They build relationships based on deep listening; and networks of trust and collaboration start to flourish. There are three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership:
- The ability to see the larger system. In any complex setting, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point, resulting in arguments about who has the right perspective. Helping people see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems. This understanding enables collaborating organisations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.
- Fostering reflection and more generative conversations. Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding up the mirror to see the taken-for-granted assumptions we carry into any conversation and appreciating how our mental models may limit us. Deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organizations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view different from their own, and to appreciate emotionally as well as cognitively each other’s reality. This is an essential doorway for building trust where distrust had prevailed and for fostering collective creativity.
- Shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future. Change often starts with conditions that are undesirable, but artful system leaders help people move beyond just reacting to these problems to building positive visions for the future. This typically happens gradually as leaders help people articulate their deeper aspirations and build confidence based on tangible accomplishments achieved together. This shift involves not just building inspiring visions but facing difficult truths about the present reality and learning how to use the tension between vision and reality to inspire truly new approaches.
Gateways to Becoming a System Leader
Re-directing attention: seeing that problems “out there” are “in here” also—and how the two are connected | Continuing to do what we are currently doing but doing it harder or smarter is not likely to produce very different outcomes. Real change starts with recognising that we are part of the systems we seek to change. The fear and distrust we seek to remedy also exist within us—as do the anger, sorrow, doubt, and frustration.
- Case Study:
Roca, Inc., is a community youth development organisation founded in the Boston area in 1988. Roca works with youths whom, by and large, no one else will work with. Many of the organisation’s staff are former gang members who now work on the streets to help current gang members redirect their lives.4 In 2013, 89 percent of the high-risk youth in Roca’s program for parolees and ex-convicts had no new arrests, 95 percent had no new technical violations, and 69 percent remained employed. On the strength of these outcomes, in 2013 Massachusetts entered into a $27 million social impact bond with Roca, whereby Roca will be paid to keep at-risk youth out of prison, receiving remuneration directly in proportion to the positive outcomes they achieve.
Roca uses processes like “peacekeeping circles,” a Native American practice that Roca has adapted and applied in diverse settings, from street conflicts to sentencing and parole circles. The practice begins by getting all the critical players in any situation into a circle and opening with each person saying a few words about his deepest intentions. The central idea behind the circle is that what affects the individual affects the community, and that both need to be healed together.6 “We learn to listen to each other in a deep way in circles,” says Roca youth worker Omar Ortez. “You see that a problem is not just one person’s problem, it is all our problem.”
Developing peacekeeping circles has not been easy, including for Baldwin herself. At Roca’s first circle training 15 years ago, “Forty people came—young people, police and probation officers, community members, and friends,” recalls Baldwin. “Halfway through the opening session, everything blew up. People were screaming, the kids were swearing, everyone was saying, ‘See! This is never going to work!’ Watching the session break down was wrenching, but eventually I understood how committed I was to divisiveness and not unity, how far I was from being a peacemaker. I understood on a visceral level the problems with ‘us and them’ thinking, and how I perpetuated that, personally and for the organization. Continuing to insist, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong! The issue is you, not us, because we hold the moral high ground!’ was a big source of what was limiting our ability to truly help people and situations.”
In their book Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer describe three “openings” needed to transform systems:
1. opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions),
2. opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and
3. opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible).
These three openings match the blind spots of most change efforts, which are often based on rigid assumptions and agendas and fail to see that transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems.
Re-orienting strategy: creating the space for change and enabling collective intelligence and wisdom to emerge | Ineffective leaders try to make change happen. System leaders focus on creating the conditions that can produce change that can cause change to be self-sustaining. As we continue to unpack the prerequisites to success in complex collaborative efforts, we appreciate more and more this subtle shift in strategic focus and the distinctive powers of those who learn how to create the space for change.
- Case Study:
Darcy Winslow was responsible for Nike’s advanced research department. When “our VP of product looked at the known toxins embedded in our products and processes and the many chemicals that posed uncertain risks, he surprised us by asking what we thought he should do. We figured he was the head of this part of the business and would know. But after some time, we understood. The real question became, ‘Who could—and should—lead in tackling this truly complex problem?’”
With the report in hand, Winslow showed the results to designers and asked what they thought. “You could tell within two minutes if the person was stirred up to do anything,” says Winslow. “If they weren’t, I moved on. If they were, I asked for a second meeting.”
Soon Winslow was bringing together groups of engaged designers and others in related product creation functions, and a new network started to emerge. Within two years, about 400 designers and product managers convened for a two-day summit where leading sustainability experts and senior management explored together the concept of design for sustainability. A movement was born within Nike.
Today, Nike’s efforts have spurred collective leadership throughout the sports apparel industry on waste, toxicity, water, and energy. For example, the Joint Roadmap Towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals, a joint initiative of Greenpeace, Nike, Puma, Adidas, New Balance, and others, aims to systematically identify major toxins and achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the entirety of the sport apparel manufacturing industry worldwide, starting in China.
System leaders like Baldwin and Winslow understand that collective wisdom cannot be manufactured or built into a plan created in advance. And it is not likely to come from leaders who seek to “drive” their predetermined change agenda. Instead, system leaders work to create the space where people living with the problem can come together to tell the truth, think more deeply about what is really happening, explore options beyond popular thinking, and search for higher leverage changes through progressive cycles of action and reflection and learning over time.
Guides for Moving Along the Path
As in any daunting undertaking, it is useful to have a few simple guides to keep in mind.
- Learning on the job: Growing as a system leader is a process that never ends, and to be successful it must be woven into the work itself. Although training and other episodic interventions can help, they are most useful when embedded in a work culture that fosters ongoing reflection and collaboration.
- Balancing advocacy and inquiry: All change requires passionate advocates. But advocates often become stuck in their own views and become ineffective in engaging others with different views. This is why effective system leaders continually cultivate their ability to listen and their willingness to inquire into views with which they do not agree. Leading with real inquiry is easy to say, but it constitutes a profound developmental journey for passionate advocates.
- Engaging people across boundaries: operating within our comfort zones will never lead to engaging the range of actors needed for systemic change – “Innovation often only comes from seeing a system from different points of view,” says Winslow.
- Letting go: System leaders need to have a strategy, but the ones who are most effective learn to “follow the energy” and set aside their strategy when unexpected paths and opportunities emerge.
- Building one’s own toolkit: Building a tool kit is more than just putting arrows in your quiver. It is about learning, over time, through disciplined practice, how to become an archer.
- Working with other system leaders: Growing the capabilities to become a more effective system leader is hard work. It needs to happen in difficult settings and under pressure to deliver tangible results. It is naïve, even for the most accomplished system leader, to think that she can do it alone.
- You need partners who share your aspirations and challenges and who help you face difficult changes while you also attend to your own ongoing personal development—balancing task time with time for reflection, action, and silence.
- You need to engage with colleagues who are at different stages in their own developmental journeys.
- And you need help letting the unexpected emerge amid urgency and time pressure.
- Connecting with others who are also engaged in this journey can help lighten the load and foster the patience needed when organisations or systems seem to be changing at a slower rate than you yourself are changing.
We believe system leadership is critical for the times in which we now live, but the ideas behind it are actually quite old. About 2,500 years ago Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu eloquently expressed the idea of individuals who catalyse collective leadership:
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.”
The real question today is, Is there any realistic hope that a sufficient number of skilled system leaders will emerge in time to help us face our daunting systemic challenges? We believe there are reasons for optimism. As the interconnected nature of core societal challenges becomes more evident, a growing number of people are trying to adopt a systemic orientation. Organisations and initiatives like those described in this article have succeeded because of a growing awareness that the inner and outer dimensions of change are connected.