At Organizations by Design Inc. we are committed to building a community of Systems Leaders through our work with not-for-profit organizations, our workshops & seminars, and in our Learning Communities of Practice (LCoP). This blog taken from the Harvard Business Review highlights the mindset and behaviours of individual systems leaders….

 “Systems Leadership involves learning to think and act in ways that are substantially different from traditional hierarchies and change models. Systems Leaders must inspire in both themselves and others a comfort level with  inquiry, learning, and collaboration with new partners.  

Over time, the qualitative aspect of the Systems Leadership process (the “how”) is just as important as the concrete action (the “what”). Mental and emotional elements like  trust, respect, and openness have powerful effects over time  on individual mindsets as well as the interactions between  stakeholders – and thus the functioning of the system itself. 

Participants and leaders of systems-change initiatives must  develop mindsets and behaviors that help to cultivate, guide and maintain the commitment and goodwill of the network. These essential Systems Leadership behaviors and mindsets  include: 

Keep an Open Mind: Avoid predetermining the answers  and let go of preconceptions. Approach and engage with a true learning mindset to enable and encourage new perspectives and innovations. 

Curate New Conversations: Create and enable  breakthrough moments in multi-stakeholder dialogue by convening the right mix of stakeholders, providing trusted and skilled facilitation, framing big-picture challenges, encouraging visionary aspirations.  

Cultivate Shared Power: Adopt a servant leadership mindset and approach; encourage all stakeholders to give  generously to the shared mission. Cultivate and reinforce championships by a deliberately diverse set of stakeholders within the network. Recognize the role of traditional power structures, and seek a balance between harnessing the influence of traditional authorities and creating new and  more equal leadership by empowering other stakeholders. 

Encourage Innovation through Co-Creation: Enable  and harness the magic of co-creation through both  leadership dialogue to set new directions or commitments;  and practitioner co-design to define innovative solutions  and projects. 

Harness your Passion: The most effective Systems Leaders have a strong emotional commitment and connection to both their mission and their stakeholder  network. They exhibit passion for the issues, trust and respect for the stakeholders, and commitment to work collaboratively and with integrity. By demonstrating and  living these values and behaviors, the Systems Leader  inspires trust and similar behavior by others in the  network. This helps establish shared norms and principles  within a highly diverse network, which stakeholders will then uphold and enforce among themselves. 

Demonstrate your Commitment: The breadth, complexity, and long timeframes of systems-change initiatives can be taxing for individuals, institutions and networks. Systems Leaders can help maintain  momentum by demonstrating continued commitment and  enthusiasm, keeping the network focused on its goals, and  highlighting and celebrating progress. They can also help the network maintain confidence in the face of challenges that arise, by facilitating solutions. 

 Cultivate Personal Capabilities: Many Systems Leaders expand their perspectives and skills through the experience of engaging in systems-change initiatives.  Investing in reflection and self-development at the individual level can help Systems Leaders perceive and encourage the best abilities of others. 

 The mindset, principles, and skills of the individual Systems Leader are essential to their success in facilitating systemic change. This ranges from practical skills in facilitation, strategy development and communication to personal and behavioral qualities such as humility, listening skills and resourcefulness. It also includes challenging one’s own mental models and habits of thinking. A certain humility and commitment is required for Systems Leaders to maintain a learning mindset, remain flexible in their views and  continuously develop their skills over the long term.”

 Reference: Harvard Business Review: Systems Leadership for Sustainable Development; Section VI Mindsets and Behaviours of Individual Systems Leaders