21st Century demands new leadership skills to grow and develop. The days of command & control leadership are over. In this world of rapid, complex change, no one can really know the future and lead others there. An individual leader can’t neatly choose the right outcome and chart a course alone, because there are too many unpredictable variables in the mix. We need a new model of leadership, which we call Whole Systems Leadership.
From a Whole Systems Leadership perspective, change doesn’t take place one person at a time. Instead, as Margaret Wheatley notes, it happens “as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible”
Drawing from the lessons of complexity science, Whole Systems Leadership recognizes that when many interconnected individuals and groups take many small actions, a shift happens in the larger patterns of communities, organizations, and societies.
There are six core characteristics:
- Deep Observation: Observations have the power to transform our understanding and generate innovative options for action. A key component of successful observation is deep insights, which means understanding to learn and temporarily suspending judgment.
- Awareness of Systems: Whole Systems Leadership understands communities, organizations, and groups as adaptive, changing systems. With an awareness of systems, you get a fuller perspective of the situation, which expands and refines your options for action.
- Awareness of Self: Developing self-awareness is the necessary beginning to developing skillful ways to respond to situations. If you are not aware of your motivations, feelings, and beliefs, you cannot make effective decisions about how to behave.
- Seeking diverse perspectives: A whole systems approach thrives on the respectful inclusion of all voices. From this viewpoint, conflicting opinions do not present a problem; rather, they present a potential resource that can sharpen thinking and lead to innovative options for action.
- Suspending Certainty; Embracing Uncertainty: Suspending certainty enables you to see beyond your habitual lenses to get a broader and potentially more accurate view of what is going on. It also creates room for diverse views so that new or different knowledge can come forth.
- Taking Adaptive Actions: Adaptive action means learning from everything you do. It means taking time to recognize patterns and reflect on their meaning before jumping to a solution. It balances an inclusive, deep listening approach with a bias towards action.
These six characteristics often overlap one another. It is easier to deeply observe if you are able to suspend certainty and embrace uncertainty.
Whole Systems Leadership uses these characteristics to generate appropriate and effective responses to complex situations.