A core value of the Baldrige Quality Criteria is to understand organizational performance in terms of a system. No where is this more important than in leadership. Leadership is a system and therefore is the primary platform from which leaders operate.
It was my first post college job and I had been promoted to a leadership position. Not really knowing what this meant, other than telling a few others what to do, I read books on leadership. Most of the ones I read were biographies of military leaders. Generals Patton and MacArthur come to memory. Let’s just say that a young man in his early twenties should never try manage and lead volunteers like Patton and MacArthur managed and lead their armies. I was an unmitigated disaster. I was managing large groups of volunteers and they did not exactly appreciate my style of leadership. They also let me and my boss know about it. I understood leadership as a practice of one person – me – rather than a system with a unique set of requirements.
Today, Amazon lists nearly 300,000 books on leadership. But do any of them create the link between developing leaders and organizational performance? The theory is that leadership development of the individual will lead to greater organizational performance. But does the theory work? In a paper titled: How Effective is Leadership Development? Authors Dr. Ian Hayward and Shrine Voller state: It remains beyond most organizations’ assessment capabilities to demonstrate a causal link between leadership development and organizational performance.
In a scholarly paper, titled Managing Leadership from a Systemic Perspective, (London Metropolitan University Business School) Dr. William Tate argues that leadership should be understood from the perspective of a system not a collective group of individuals. He states: An organization’s services are delivered to customers and markets by systems, not by individuals. So why do we almost always view leadership as traits of the individual rather than a set of requirements of a system? Maybe because we are locked into the hero worship of great transformative leaders – Patton, Churchill, Jobs, Gates, Welch, Kennedy, King, Gandhi, Mandela, etc. However, in doing so, we fail to recognize that organizational work, delivering products and services to consumers, customers, stakeholders, citizens, and patients is done through designed systems. In designing a leadership system, we must first ask: what are the requirements of the system? This should be the first step in any discussion of organizational leadership – what are the requirements? We do so in every other system, why not do it in a system of leadership?