The below article from Forbes was written by John Welsh, with contributions from Katherine Tyler Scott. This is the first in a series of posts on a systemic approach to leadership by Mr. Welsh.
As leaders look to transform their companies, an understanding of how things and people are connected helps them to see their business within a wider context, not just from their own perspective, and be more effective. A systemic approach, as it is described.
“Leadership that focusses on the larger system is about knowing how strengthening the relationships between people is needed to solve problems that are too big and complex for individuals to solve,” says systemic leadership and change expert Jennifer Campbell.
Research points to the number of companies looking to transform - five changes within the last three years – while the success rate is far from desirable - only around a third were successful while half failed.
“The main reason for failure is to approach companies and everyone in them like machines and to try to ‘sell change’. Unfortunately, straight-line answers do not work for complex problems. As a consequence, behaviour is difficult and slow to change,” continues Campbell, who runs the annual Systemic Leadership Summit.
A frequently used analogy is to compare a company to a human body.
“They say we have ten systems in the body. They do connect but each system has its own particular function that is inter-related. The same is true for organisations, for their health and their well-being,” says Katherine Tyler Scott, Managing Principal, Ki ThoughtBridge, and chair of the International Leadership Association Board.
“We need leaders who understand the whole, not just the parts. Systems thinking helps leaders understand the interconnectedness, so they are able to impact the organisation and to help the change to be sustainable and long-lasting.”
In an era of complexity and chaos, leaders encounter many complex problems which, by definition, cannot be fully understood. Solutions cannot be reduced to a formula or easy answers.