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Systemic Leadership: The Role of Systems Thinking in Effective Leadership

Change is constant in today’s rapidly evolving digital era, and organizations must adapt quickly to stay ahead. But managing change in this dynamic environment can be challenging. This is where systemic leadership comes into play.

Understanding Systemic Leadership

Systemic leadership involves taking responsibility for the organization’s work and its impact on various stakeholders, including people, the environment, the industry, the economy, and society. It requires a new kind of leadership strategy that embraces systems thinking and complexity theory. Systemic leaders can navigate complexity and guide their organizations toward sustainable success.

The Value of Systemic Leadership

Systemic leadership views organizations as organic systems that must maintain wholeness and adapt to change. The role of leadership is to ensure the organization thrives by making continuous adjustments and course corrections. Systemic leadership approach enables leaders to become more conscious of the organization’s impact on its surroundings, including the community and the environment.

Attributes of a Systems Leader

Systemic leadership requires a different style of leadership and a unique set of skills and attributes. Here is a clear framework for the systemic leadership approach:

  1. Commit

Demonstrate an unwavering commitment to a sense of public value and moral purpose. Work together with others to create systemic change and address complex issues.

  1. Learn

Understand the system, have confidence in the desired outcomes, and generate new insights and ideas. Have ambition for the broader community.

  1. Engage

Build trust through continuous communication. Create a compelling and inspirational narrative that engages others.

  1. Accountability

Set shared goals and principles to guide the initiative. Use measurement frameworks to track progress—Foster creativity and innovation to tackle complex problems.

  1. Review

Regularly review progress and adapt strategies accordingly. Embrace feedback as a powerful tool for improved leadership.

Group of people joining hands in unity before starting work

The Effectiveness of Systemic Leadership

Organizational effectiveness is achieved when an organization fulfils its mission and goals. Developing the leadership capability of an organization’s human capital to increase organizational performance and achieve effectiveness requires blending the individual leader development activities with strategic organization development activities, particularly those focused on visioning, strategic planning, and change management (Clarke, 2013).

Systemic leadership can enhance organizational effectiveness in several ways:

  1. Holistic Perspective

Systemic leadership encourages leaders to take a holistic view and address complex challenges that may be overlooked with a traditional linear approach.

  1. Collaboration and Cooperation

Systemic leadership promotes collaboration, open communication, and feedback loops. It fosters innovation, knowledge sharing, and collective problem-solving.

  1. Adaptability and Creativity

Systemic leaders thrive in dynamic environments and introduce new ways of solving problems or delivering results.

  1. Empowerment and Engagement

Systemic leadership empowers teams by delegating authority, fostering ownership, and involving employees in decision-making. This leads to higher job satisfaction and productivity.

  1. Sustainable Outcomes

Systemic leaders consider the long-term consequences of their decisions. They aim to achieve sustainable outcomes that benefit the organization, stakeholders, and the wider community.

The person arranging the organizational system on a board

Systemic leadership is a more than one-size-fits-all approach. It requires leaders to provide tailored support, guidance, and motivation to meet the specific needs of their employees and situations. Embracing systemic leadership is crucial in the digital era, allowing organizations to thrive amidst complexity and uncertainty.

Systemic leadership takes a holistic view of the organization as a system, while traditional leadership often focuses on individual parts or functions. Systemic leadership emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and sustainable outcomes.

Systemic leaders need skills in systems thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and strategic thinking. Emotional intelligence and the ability to inspire and motivate others are also crucial.

Systemic leadership considers the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of decision-making, aiming for sustainable outcomes. It promotes responsible practices, minimizes negative impacts, and embraces innovation and adaptability for long-term success.

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