Systemic leadership

How do you make the impossible task – possible?

In 2007 I coached a group of SME owners and business start up hopefuls.  Most of them were very young people.
I wanted to check their systemic thinking, so I asked them:

“Can the cleaning company in your town clean the city alone?”

The answer was unanimous.
“That is very difficult and almost impossible” the group said. They can’t cope on their own. They need constant support from ordinary people, communities and the business sector they explained… They were more than right.

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Our old methods of governing organizations, people and nations are not quite functioning well these days. Recent economic turbulences which are far from over and the ecological situation on planet are living proof of this. More than ever the humanity needs a drastic change in the way we relate to each other and the planet.
The political and the economic leaders are unable to sort these problems by relying on their own wisdom. Our businesses, communities, and the environment needs immediate changes in leadership and the way leaders lead at present.
The “autocratic management”, “the one man show company”, “the management board knows it all” will no doubt stay with us for some time since there is still lots of fear among people and there are people who abuse this fear (mostly unconsciously) either by not taking personal responsibility,  or by manipulating others in companies and nations.
Luckily a new management style is also present and is slowly making its way and substituting the old schools of managing/governing.
This new managerial style substitutes fear with trust, command and control with support and cooperation, is in tune with the whole system, the people who are part of it, and it also is in tune with nature and other living systems that surround it. It considers organizations for what they really are, a living organisms made of living people. [1]
This style is a braking point, where management ends and leadership begins. Cohesion and alignment between people and their values and behaviors is vital to this leadership style. I will call it systemic leadership.

One person that certainly help in understanding and knows about this is James Surowiecki who in his book “The wisdom of crowds” says:

Our collective intelligence is often excellent”
He continues:
“If you put together a big enough and diverse enough group of people and ask them to make decisions affecting matters of general interest, that group’s decision will over time be intellectually superior to the individual, no matter how smart or well informed he is”.[2]

The experience of many companies also shows that the results that they give when being governed by this organic systemic leadership are more sustainable and with better overall performances.
I have seen examples and proofs many times that

“The system is always wiser than the leader or the leadership team that leads it”.

Key attitude in understanding and implementing systemic leadership is that the system is governed by the wisdom of the system itself (collective intelligence). The post conventional leaders will be those that will possess the quality of wisdom to recognize that the “system is always wiser than him/her”.

The new leaders will be in service of the system, by creating safe containers for big systemic transformation.
They will encourage dialogue and feed the systemic wisdom that crystalizes trough the co-creative conversations, back in the system itself.
They will be transparent in these processes and inform the people in the system that what he/she is doing is simply responding to what they (people in the system) need and are motivated by.

In such a case, we do not have “a Leader” but rather a shared ownership and responsibility or a “systemic shared leadership”. This is how we’ll govern our organization, and the whole humanity.

In this way an effortless empowerment is happening. The leader is being lead, by the wisdom of the people that he leads. Kind of perpetuum mobile of effortless trust, support, nourishment and full spectrum functioning of the leader and the system.
Shared leadership or the “systemic leadership“ in my opinion is the most powerful leadership there is and is perhaps something we all need to include and put out there in global awareness. This is not only wise but is empowering as well, both for the leader and the lead.

It empowers the people, who empower the leader that serves them.

This is how a leadership sustainability will be accomplished in my opinion and perhaps general global sustainability on all levels.
I see no alternative for the humanity and its leadership than to develop systemic leadership and leaders who are open enough to realize that what they are doing are serving the system itself who by default wants to evolve towards its full potential (authenticity, full spectrum, enlightenment…).

And no, this is not a utopia, thankfully systemic leadership is actually happening more often every day (Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania). The systemic leadership is in tune with the nature, with the universe itself, it is alive and it is also human and spiritual as well. Further more it takes in consideration all the human and organizational needs (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual).

Managers and companies/nations that will not understand this and don’t make the transformation from managers to systemic leaders, will be paying an ENORMOUS price. They will manage companies that are out of tune, govern without touch, and as bottom line will have poor performances in many ways.

Non systemic leadership is an impossible task, a burden to the leader and the system he/she governs, that no one (leader /leadership team or government) is able to hold alone.

Welcome to the dawn of Systemic Leadership.

The themes I am writing about in this blog are expanded in my latest book Diamond Leadership available on Kindle. 


[1] Peter Senge “The fifth discipline”  Currency Doubleday, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1990.

[2] James Surowiecki “The wisdom of crowds”  Anchor Books 2005

Further links:

The Boston Consulting Group:  Simon Levin on Systems Advantage


Categories: Diamonding

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. When it comes to MDG (millennium development goals) set by the UN, world leaders have not enough energy, power and time to do this on their own.

    Global, systemic, full system participation is needed for such a massive task.
    It requires incredible leadership, alignment and cohesion.

    We could do this if we include as much as possible people on the planet and start doing on a global level what some companies and few nations are doing at present on their own.

    That is to ask critical questions (Questions that matter) for all of us.

    Such as:
    What is our global vision?
    What are the values we want to see in the near future on the planet? What is most important to us? etc.

  2. The wise #LEADER knows: The organization is a living system.
    He who does not understand this will suffer.

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