There is no end to bestselling books, videos, seminars, and educational opportunities on leadership. A search on Amazon for books on leadership yields 204,187 results. The same search for “leadership systems” yields only 94 results. Clearly, little is being written on understanding leadership from a systems perspective.
The Baldrige Quality Criteria might be the singular voice for understanding leadership from the perspective of a system rather than a collective group of individuals competing for power. A focus on developing individual leadership skills apart from a clear understanding of a leadership system, usually results in chaos, personal silos, and contention rather than collaboration. Public education might be a valid case on point.
In a recent project with a regional hospital we have the privilege of facilitating the design of a formal leadership system. The results are rather stunning. In our first facilitated focus group the question to their executive leadership was put this way: What is the singular result you looking for from the leadership system? As the facilitation team, we were expecting something like “exceptional patient health”, “patient satisfaction”, strategic execution, etc. However, the COO swung the team to a different way of thinking. “Empowered People” was the singular result of a leadership system. This was followed up by three types of people that needed empowerment – patients, staff, and community. The logic was impeccable. Empowered people is the road to executing mission and vision.
Subsequent facilitated workshops identified critical leadership behaviors that would result in “empowered people”. This was then followed up with specific leadership activities to support leadership behaviors and eventually mission execution. During a final debrief, one of the senior leadership in the group stated: “I have always been promoted because I was a good nurse. But as a leader, I was never sure what I was supposed to do. Now I do? Clearly identifying the requirements, behaviors and activities of a leadership system implications.
Like any system, the first mandate is to identify the requirements of the system. When these requirements are clearly understood, the leadership behaviors, activities, and performance metrics all fall into place. Leaders know exactly what is expected and how they will be measured. Individual leadership styles become subordinate to the leadership system.